Versatility Makes Aviles Invaluable Member of the 2014 Goon Squad
Laurel Wilder | On 24, Mar 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’ players who has a key role in holding the team together.
From his roles as “Handsome Mike” to founder of the Goon Squad, it’s obvious that Mike Aviles is a man of many talents. As the Indians strong utility infielder, that versatile nature is nothing something to be taken for granted. As the ever-popular GV Artwork shirts stated, Aviles, along with the rest of the Goon Squad, is “ready to go at the drop of a bat,” ready to take on any role and perform at the highest level whenever he is called upon.
Already, Aviles’ versatility has been tested during 2014 Spring Training, when manager Terry Fracona had Aviles play left field during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Proving that the new field location was not something to throw off his game, Aviles when 3-for-3. He has also appeared in center field for the Tribe during Spring Training, along with fulfilling his more standard roles roaming the infield.
The constant shifts and need for Aviles to play at number of different positions has not been a detriment to his performance throughout Spring Training. He is currently hitting .353 in 12 games, with 12 hits, three doubles, and one home run. He ended 2013 with a .252 AVG in 124 games, a fairly solid showing for a player on the bench. With his strong Spring Training numbers, however, Aviles seems poised to have a stronger regular season than he did last year.
Furthermore, his demonstrated ability to perform – and perform well – in a number of positions across the field are going to be an extreme asset to the Tribe in the coming season. Aviles, who is, at the core, an infielder, is going to be a much-needed member of the team to assist in some of the situations that are the biggest question marks defensively coming into the season. With an abundance of outfielders, even with the recent cut of Jeff Francoeur, it stands to reason that Aviles will not make too many outfield appearances in the coming months. However, his talents will likely be sought after quite heavily when looking at both third base and shortstop.
The question of third base is one of the most talked about concerns of the infield in 2014. With Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall vying for the job as starting third baseman, it has not quite been decided who will be appearing at that corner on Opening Day. Whoever is awarded the position, though, will most likely share the duties – and this could be where Aviles steps in.
Chisenhall has the Major League experience at third, while Santana has made impressive steps to learn the position and play it well during the offseason and Spring Training. Despite each player having his strengths, both also have their weaknesses in the corner – Chisenhall’s being a lack of consistency and Santana’s being his inexperience. Whomever is playing third this season will likely catch flack for some flaw demonstrated while playing. Aviles has solid experience playing third, and can fill in at that position should Chisenhall or Santana need a backup or simply someone new to play the position at any point during the season. Aviles’ talents will need to be utilized to remedy any problems that may be faced during the season by either potential third baseman.
Additionally, shortstop may require a good portion of Aviles’ time this season. Last season, Aviles started in 19 consecutive games at short after Asdrubal Cabrera tore his right quadriceps muscle. He also appeared as Boston’s starting shortstop in 2012 prior to coming to Cleveland, furthering his experience in the role.
Cabrera’s performance level is nearly always in question at the start of a season. Despite his All-Star season in 2012 and coming to 2013 Spring Training in fantastic shape, Cabrera suffered from a slump last season and underperformed quite heavily. There were many talks of his potential to be traded during the offseason, and of the opportunity for Francisco Lindor to make his Major League appearance at short sooner rather than later, simply to replace Cabrera before he suffers from any further performance downturn. 2014 has not brought too many Cabrera talks thus far, and, with it being Cabrera’s last contracted season with the Indians, it is possible that fans will see glimpses of the Cabrera of old during this season.
However, Aviles will need to be ready to step in and take over at short should anything detrimental happen to again mitigate Cabrera’s successes on the field. Should he be traded, get injured, or simply not play well, it does not appear that Lindor would be the first to be called up to take over on the field. Instead, it seems more likely that Aviles would resume the role he adopted last year until a prospect such as Lindor were ready to fill in on the Major League stage.
Aviles is a player with a depth and breadth of abilities. His potential has not gone unnoticed, as Terry Francona said during this year’s Spring Training that Aviles has earned the trust that he and the rest of the coaching staff put in Aviles. He added that some players earn that trust from their managers and then level off, though Aviles strives to earn that trust every day on the field. That trust, Francona said, is why Aviles has had the opportunity to play all over the field during Spring Training.
Francona summed Aviles up by describing him as “something special,” as a player who is willing to accept that he may not be out on the field every day but will be ready to step in the minute they are needed – which, based on certain infield concerns in the coming season, may be more often than anticipated.
Despite his versatility and the need for Aviles to wear a number of different hats, the way in which he is used with the team speaks most strongly to the player that Aviles is. Above all, he is truly a Goon Squader, a player who knows that he could be needed at any day, at any time, and at any position – and is more than ready, at the drop of a bat, to take the field and do just that.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer