Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 36: Jesus Aguilar

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 36 days

For Cleveland Indians first base option Jesus Aguilar, he has done about everything that he can at the minor league level. Despite some good numbers there and showing pop from the right side of the plate, he has yet to get a prolonged look on the Major League stage.

He got just a quick taste of the Majors again in 2015 and headed into the offseason as the club’s second option behind Carlos Santana at first base. And then the Indians added Mike Napoli to take over the position and some have to wonder how much longer Aguilar remains in the team’s long-term picture.

With organizational depth being thin at first base and with right-handed power being a long-standing issue in the Indians lineup, Aguilar was once thought to be an option to take over the job for the team. While the addition of Napoli is for only one season, it would presumably eliminate Aguilar’s ability to sniff the big leagues again until late in the 2016 season, barring injuries at the MLB level.

Aguilar was one of the final cuts of the 2015 spring. With Nick Swisher set to be absent from the club while recovering from his double knee surgery in the offseason, Aguilar was looking to back up Santana at first and give the Indians bench a little right-handed pop. Instead, Jerry Sands was given the job and Aguilar would appear in a Cleveland uniform just seven times.

He set up residence in Columbus again, his second straight season of heavy work with the Clippers. He hit .267 with a .332 on-base percentage, hitting 29 doubles, 19 homers, and driving in 93 as a key piece of the AAA lineup.

While the surface numbers were good, there were some other concerns. He struck out in over 20% of his plate appearances for the second straight season in Columbus. His batting average dropped from a promising .304 mark in 2014 to .267 in 2015. His OBP dropped even more, going from .395 to .332 as his walk rate fell from 12.8% of his plate appearances to 8.2%. The power and run production were certainly present, but he also grounded into 21 double plays.

His power potential made him a name to watch beginning back in 2011, when he hit 23 homers in 126 games for Lake County and Kinston at the age of 21. His 126 strikeouts in those games did raise some questions about his future worth to the Major League club. He hit 15 in 127 games for Carolina and Akron in 2012, 16 in 2013 for Akron in 130 games (with a pro high of 105 RBI), and then 19 in 2014 for Columbus in 118 games.

But despite the allure of some power from Aguilar, the declining average, questions about his bat speed, the strikeout rate, his tendency to chase pitches out of the strike zone, and the issues in the field have helped keep the one-time prospect off of the Progressive Field playing surface.

He corralled issues with errors in 2015, committing just one over the course of the season for a .999 fielding percentage. He made four in 2014 (.994), but 14 in 2013 (.988). But his range factor per nine innings and per game were both below his career average at first base over the last three minor league seasons.

At the plate, and granted, in a small sample size in 2015, Aguilar swung at 48.9% of pitches outside of the strike zone. Only Adam Moore had a higher rate, but he had just four plate appearances on the year. Despite being second of 24 Indians position players on the year in swinging at pitches out of the zone, he was 20th on the club by making contact with 54.6% of those pitches. He also saw the shortest average time between pitches of any Indians position player during the season.

Was Aguilar pressing at the plate? It would seem likely. He chased pitches out of the zone, was back in the box quickly, and had a strikeout rate of 35% with the Indians. And to some degree, with the clock ticking and opportunities becoming fewer and farther between for the 40-man roster member to latch on with the big league club for good, he may have been giving that extra bit of effort to try to make something happen and the results showed in a negative fashion.

He did hit .316 in his 20 plate appearances in 2015, getting five singles and his first career extra base hit (a double) in the third-to-last game of the season. He drove in two runs, but did not score and did not walk. In 19 games the previous season, he had four singles in 38 plate appearances (.190 average), drew four walks, and struck out in 34.2% of his plate appearances.

What does the future hold for the 25-year-old Aguilar? With a crowded MLB roster and little to no playing time available at first base and designated hitter (as long as Napoli and Santana remain healthy), Aguilar is destined for Columbus for a third straight season. If he puts together a better year, he could remain in their picture for the future, with Napoli’s contract done after the season and the potential that the option on Santana’s contract ($12 million in 2017) is not picked up.

But it is no certainty for the one-time prospect, who now enters his ninth season of professional ball and will have to show that he remains worthy of a 40-man roster spot moving forward and is not the proverbial “AAAA” hitter.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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