Can Aviles Start?

After a surprising 2013 Cleveland Indians season the organization has higher expectations for 2014 than any season dating back to 2008. The Indians and their fans will expect a playoff team and World Series contender. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians became a contender, but most importantly, How Do the Indians Reach the Next Level?

Mike Aviles has spent much of his career traveling not only to a number of different ball clubs, but around the baseball diamond, as well. The utility man has experience around the infield, having filled in throughout the season for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera during an injury-laden June and ending the season with regular appearances at third base. However, his ability to cover the field and fill in at a number of positions begs the question – should the need arise, can Aviles start?

With thoughts of trading Cabrera circling and questions as to the future of the Indians, the potential to use Aviles as a starting position player is not out of the question. In 2012, he was the Red Sox starting shortstop until being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for John Farrell, eventually coming to the Indians with Yan Gomes in a trade that sent Esmil Rogers to Toronto.

Aviles in under contract with the Indians until the end of 2014. His salary will be $3.5 million for the coming year. It obviously makes sense to keep him, but what is his ideal role to be in the coming season?

Aviles hit in 124 games with the Tribe this season. He batted .252 on the season and hit .282/.368/.650. In 394 at-bats, Aviles hit 15 doubles and nine home runs. He drove in 46 RBI and struck to 41 times. He was a strong asset to the Tribe bench and played a key role in the newly-developed Goon Squad this season. Should Aviles move to a starting role, it could be a blow to the bench.

However, that’s not to say that Aviles would remain a starter throughout the whole season. As has been mentioned, should the Tribe trade Cabrera at some point, a shortstop would be needed to get the team through the season until Francisco Lindor is ready for the Majors. Aviles hit in 45 games at shortstop this season and made four errors in those games. He hit .259 at short with four home runs, six doubles, and 16 RBI while stealing three bases. He hit lower when playing third (.239 in 46 games with four home runs), demonstrating his ability to excel in the shortstop position.

A deterring factor, however, is the fact that Aviles hit .243 when starting this season, compared to his .333 AVG as a sub. Granted, he played 86 games as a starter and only 38 when subbing, but it’s still slightly disconcerting to see such a difference. Additionally, his starting numbers are when starting at a number of positions – it is not limited to one starting role.

Aviles started a number of games at short in June, with Cabrera injured, and hit .252 for the month while a line of .282/.350/.631. He hit two home runs and four doubles while striking out 15 times. His June average is equal to his overall season average, which does not bode too poorly.

His 2012 season as the starting shortstop for the Red Sox is similar to current numbers. He hit .248 at shortstop in Boston, posting the same average when hitting as a starter in 130 games.  He hit 13 home runs as a shortstop in Boston, with 59 RBI and 27 doubles. The ability is there, and his average as a Boston starting shortstop is higher than Cabrera’s with Cleveland this season (Aviles’ .248 with the Red Sox compared to Cabrera’s .242 with the Tribe). It’s not a huge difference, but, when compared with Aviles’ .252 in 2013, it shows that Aviles can deliver more at the plate.

Playing much of the season at third, as well, the idea has been tossed around that Aviles could take over the third base position on a more regular basis throughout 2014. However, moving Aviles to third leaves shortstop up in the air. Should the Indians keeps Cabrera this season, he would remain in that position and allow Aviles to continue at third or to serve as a utility man once again. Should Cabrera leave, however, now or early in the season, having Aviles at third would make little sense.

It makes the most sense to assume that Aviles is going to serve as the Indians shortstop at some point during the 2014 season. When (if?) Cabrera is traded, Aviles will need to step in to fill the gap until Lindor is ready to play. Even Jose Ramirez could step in if needed, to save Aviles from adopting the consistent starting role.

It seems logical – use Aviles as a placeholder until the young talent makes his way to the big league stage. This way, the Tribe benefits from Aviles’ ability to play short (and play it relatively well), and the bench only suffers for a portion of the season.

Back to the question at hand – can Aviles start? It seems as though yes, he can. But should he? His strengths truly are as a jack-of-all-trades, a player able to explore the infield (and even outfield) and fill in when needed. He’ll be needed at some point next season when a Cabrera decision is made, even if it is just as a player to fill the position until Lindor or Ramirez possibly take over. This is no slight to Aviles. All teams need players who can step in and fill whatever shoes are needed. This seems to be what he does best, and the largest skill set that he brings to the Tribe. Handsome Mike, a super utility man and member of the Good Squad – it has a nice ring to it and describes what seems to be what Aviles does best.

Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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