Aguilar a Star in the Making
Bob Toth | On 14, Feb 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ young players who likely won’t make the roster but could impact the Tribe’s season before it ends.
It has been a long time since the Cleveland Indians developed a bona fide power hitter for their lineup through their own farm system.
Several big bats of the 1990s were home grown products, scouted and developed through the Indians’ minor league system. Familiar names like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Brian Giles, and Richie Sexson all played in the minors for Cleveland throughout the 1990s and became prolific sluggers in the Majors. Two of the four, Giles and Sexson, put up the bulk of their numbers outside of an Indians uniform. The first decade of the 21st century failed to produce any legitimate sluggers within the organization.
Prospect Jesus Aguilar hopes to change that, and in the near future.
Aguilar is coming off of another impressive season of development in the minors with the Indians. Last season, he spent the entire year with the Akron Aeros. He batted .275 with a .349 on-base percentage, his lowest marks since 2010, but neither were considered blemishes on his production and growth on the field.
The 23-year-old right-handed hitting first baseman showed consistency at the plate, despite not making a giant stride in his power numbers. It was Aguilar’s first full season with the Aeros in the Double-A Eastern League, a league known better for its pitching than offense. He hit 16 home runs, the second highest season output he has had in the minors (23 in 2011 for Lake County and Kinston). His 105 runs batted in were tops in the Eastern League and the most all-time for Akron and 23 better than his 82 driven in in 2011. He had 137 hits on the season in 130 games, including 28 doubles.
He decreased his strikeout rate, which has steadily improved from once every 4.13 plate appearances in 2011 to once every 4.47 appearances in 2012 to once every 5.30 appearances last season.
It all stemmed from a different approach at the plate.
“I’ve tried to make more contact and not do too much. I saw some results last year,” said Aguilar at the Lake County Captains Hot Stove Dinner event on January 30th. “I try to stay focused on baseball and what I can do good.”
Aguilar continued to implement his new approach over the winter months while playing for Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. It was an opportunity for him to return home to his native Venezuela.
It was also a chance for him to learn from his teammate with Caracas, 17-year Major League veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu, who advised him to develop a good routine and to stick with it every day.
Being back home did not affect him negatively at the plate. He hit .327 with 18 home runs and 50 RBI in 58 games in winter play. The 18 home runs ranked second in the league. His RBI output was good for fourth and his batting average was the seventh best overall.
“I’ve enjoyed my time over there [in the Venezuelan Winter League],” said Aguilar about his 2013 offseason. “I’m trying to make more contact. I tried to enjoy my time over there and not try to do too much. I saw the results last year. I can learn what I can learn.”
In addition to his efforts on the field, Aguilar has been recognized on numerous occasions for his progress and development as a player.
He was an organizational and post-season Midwest League All-Star in 2011.
Aguilar was chosen in 2012 during the Major League All-Star weekend in Kansas City to participate in his first Futures Game, a collection of some of the up-and-coming prospects in the minor leagues. He joined fellow Indians minor leaguer Francisco Lindor on the World Team. Aguilar started at first base for his team and was 1-for-3 at the plate with a single to center, a walk, and a run scored.
He was named an Eastern League post-season All-Star in 2013. In November, the Indians purchased his contract, adding him to the team’s 40-man roster, protecting him from potential selection in the Rule 5 draft that followed in December.
Aguilar is considered a good defender at first base. During his playing time this offseason, he played some third base due to injuries on the team, but the Indians still are viewing him as a first base prospect. With question marks galore on the big league club due to the inconsistent play of current third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, adding additional versatility to his game will only benefit Aguilar’s climb through the farm system.
It is hard to envision a scenario in which Aguilar does not begin the coming season at Columbus with the Triple-A Clippers as the team’s first baseman after his success against pitching in Double-A. From there, he could find himself in play as a potential contributor with the Indians in the very near future on a team always in need of a power right-handed stick at the plate.
Aguilar has shown nature ability and a raw power to be expected from his large stature.
He did not express concern about where he may be to start 2014. “I don’t have control about that. I just try to do my part on my end and to make the decision hard on [the coaches].”
Another strong showing this spring and again in the early going in Columbus over the summer and Aguilar will do just that.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer