Super-Sub Aviles hopes to Follow Wacky Winter with a Super Summer
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the 15 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.
By Steve Eby
What a strange, wild winter Mike Aviles had.
“It was definitely weird,” Aviles said in a Michael Silverman article.
What was so strange was that Aviles became another answer to a trivia question, as he was traded on Oct. 21 from the Boston Red Sox to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for pitcher David Carpenter and the rights to speak to—and eventually hire—Manager John Farrell.
“I think it was the seventh time (a manager has been traded),” Aviles said. “It’s definitely weird but you can also take it as an honor. I know how much the Red Sox value his leadership, so I definitely took it as an honor. They’re trading me for him. I appreciate it. Get to go in the record books for something, right?”
What was even more strange for Aviles is that his time in Toronto was so short. On November 3—less than two weeks after getting dealt—Aviles was traded again. The second deal sent Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes from the Blue Jays to the Indians in exchange for relief pitcher Esmil Rogers. It was a deal that reunited Aviles with his former manager, Terry Francona.
“He’s a good guy and is definitely a player’s manager,” Aviles said. “He’s always going to stick up for you. As a player, you always know that your manager is going to have your back and he’s always going to be there for you, so he’s definitely going to make it enjoyable to come to the park and work for him.”
Francona’s feelings are mutual, as the trade for the infielder turned out to be the first move after the hiring of the Tribe’s new skipper.
“I think (he’s the reason I’m here),” Aviles said. “He’s the only one in Cleveland that I’ve had any relationship with.”
Aviles’ road to Cleveland has certainly been a long and winding one. As a seventh round pick by Kansas City in 2003, Aviles was named the Royals Minor League Player of the Year in 2007. He made his Major League debut in 2008 and took the American League by storm by hitting .325 with 10 homeruns and 51 RBI. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, was named the Royals Player of the Year and would have finished third in the AL batting race if he had enough at bats to qualify.
In 2009, Aviles played in his first World Baseball Classic for his native Puerto Rico, but strained his arm in the tournament which eventually led to Tommy John surgery. This led to a rebound 2010 season in which Aviles batted .304 for KC in his comeback season.
In 2011, Aviles struggled for the first time in his Major League career as he batted only .222 for the Royals before he was traded to Boston midseason where he was first united with Francona.
“In the two months that I played for him in Boston,” Aviles said, “he’s the best manager that I’ve ever played for.” His new skipper seemed to breathe new life into Aviles as he came back to bat .317 down the stretch for the Red Sox.
After Francona was fired in Boston at the end of the season, Aviles stayed and became the Red Sox everyday shortstop. Aviles played in 136 games in 2012 which is a career high. He also set career marks with 13 homeruns and 60 RBI, but his batting average took a step backwards as it dipped to .250. It was after his year-and-a-half run in Boston that Aviles’ wacky offseason eventually brought him to Cleveland.
Aviles’ biggest value is in the fact that he can play all over the diamond. In his career, Aviles has played 280 games at shortstop, 144 at second base, 61 at third, four in right field and one in left. His strongest positions defensively are up the middle, where he holds a .974 fielding percentage at shortstop and .978 at second base. The lowest percentage is at third base, where Aviles’ percentage is a below average .924. Because of this versatility, Aviles will most likely see a lot of action for the Indians in 2013.
“We needed some right handed balance to our lineup,” Indians President Mark Shapiro said at TribeFest. “We happen to have a left-handed hitting second and third baseman, so that’s easy and natural to rest those guys who are young guys. We’ve got a shortstop who’s one of the better, more productive shortstops in the game, but he’s still going to need to rest occasionally. You can look at those three spots and he is going to have a chance to play a lot.”
Logic says that despite third base being Aviles’ statistically worst position, it is probably where he will log the most games. While both Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are young left handed hitters, Kipnis is far more proven and it will be Chisenhall who will most likely sit more often against tough left handed starters. For Aviles, the position that he plays does not seem to make a big difference.
“Over the years you get used to it,” Aviles said on STO’s Spring Training Daily. “You play some second, you play some third and you play some short…the winter before last I went and played right field in Puerto Rico. You just start to get used to it. I just try to prepare myself as much as possible because at the end of the day—you never know. You might play shortstop one day and the next day someone goes down and you might have to play another position because you’re the most versatile.”
It is his versatility that makes Aviles such a valuable member of the team.
“When you look at all of the good teams, there’s usually a good guy that plays everywhere,” Aviles added. “Hopefully I’m that guy. I know I can play everywhere and do whatever I can do to help the team win. That’s my goal…do whatever I have to do to help the team win.”
Putting ego’s aside and working only to help the team is what makes a good utility man. Recently it seems that Indians have decided to go with young, unproven utility men that are still trying to establish themselves in the Major Leagues (see: Jason Donald). This is certainly not the case with Aviles. The 2013 Indians bench will feature a proven infielder with some power, some speed and a .277 lifetime batting average. It’s a huge improvement from what the team has had in recent memory and Aviles seems to have the perfect attitude to handle it.
“It’s fine,” Aviles said. “It’s one of those deals where I’m getting in, playing and doing whatever I can. I’m blessed and cursed with versatility. I can play anywhere. As long as I get a chance to play and help the team a little bit, that’s really the main focus is trying to find a way to win. I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer