First base has long been a weak point for the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe has suffered through some more than questionable characters over the last few years. Casey Kotchman, Matt LaPorta, and Andy Marte bring up some horrifying memories. Long has the farm system been filled with sub-par first base talent like Beau Mills, Lars Anderson, Russ Canzler, and Michael Aubrey. It seems an endless string of poor decisions has plagued the Indians with less than mediocrity at a high offensive position.
All is not lost however, as a new first base candidate has emerged from the ranks. Jesus Aguilar is just 22 years old starting the season at first base for the Akron Aeros. He has a solid bat, power, and an ever improving glove. This season he ranks at the Indians number nine prospect according to Baseball America. He proves to be the best the Tribe has to offer at first base in their minor league system.
Aguilar has played very well for the Aeros thus far. Through 21 games he holds a nice batting line of .280/.355/.390. His batting average is at a good level for a power hitting first baseman in Double-A. His on-base percentage is very good, showing plate discipline to go along with his power. With all this talk of power, it seems odd that he holds a slugging percentage of .390. This number is well below his .443 career average, and even further below his last season’s total of .461.
Looking at all the times he’s put a ball in play, it’s easy to see why the home runs have been down thus far in the opening weeks of the season. While Aguilar holds a career fly ball rate of 35.9%, he has hit fly balls just 28% of the time this season. His ground ball rates are up and his line drive rates are up, the later factoring greatly into his nice batting average. A good string of hits was another contributor to that average.
Aguilar was on fire for a two week stretch in April. From April 12 to April 22, Aguilar recorded 13 hits in ten games, raising his season average 70 points from .222 to .292. While only two of those hits were for extra bases, he showed a great ability to get on base. He tallied eight walks in the ten games putting himself on base a total of 21 times. This is especially encouraging given that he has seen a very large number of breaking balls so far this season.
Breaking balls have been a big obstacle for the Aeros’ young first baseman. Aguilar swings and missis quite a bit, but this season his strikeout rate is down and he’s hitting the curve ball a little better. His approach has helped him immensely with those pesky off speed pitches. Instead of trying to pull everything like a lot of other young power hitters, Aguilar is trying to use the entire field.
“I’m trying to go the other way,” Aguilar said. “I’m trying to hit the ball [to all fields].”
The new approach seems to be serving Aguilar well. He is getting a better quality of hits, putting more balls in play, and hitting the ball all over the park. He is no longer going up to the plate just to swing for the fences.
“I don’t go up there thinking about home runs or strikeouts,” Aguilar said. “I just try to hit the ball hard.”
Edwin Rodriguez has managed Aguilar for two seasons. Last year he was his manager at Carolina, now this season he skippers him again in Akron. He has a good feel of what Aguilar can and cannot do, does and does not do. Rodriguez has seen the improvement in Aguilar over the last couple seasons.
“He’s getting much better” Rodriguez said, “You see here and there he has a big league bat. The power is there, now he’s learning to be a hitter.”
Aguilar had a big night on Sunday against the Binghamton Mets. After singling in the second inning, Aguilar came to the plate with Tyler Holt on third and one out. The Aeros trailed 5-2, but Aguilar cut the lead to one with a two run home run to left-center field. Aguilar logged his Eastern League leading 25th RBI and the Aeros went on to notch the win 7-5.
That win gave them a two to one series win against the Mets; couple that with winning two out of three games against the Trenton Thunder, and the Aeros have won two series in a row. That’s four wins in six games marking their best stretch of the season and bringing their season record to 10-13, just three games out of first place in the Eastern League Western Division. Aguilar anchors an offense that has been much improved over their poor start, and a team that is beginning to surge in the standings.
Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer