Mike Aviles now carries the rare distinction of being traded for a manager but his versatility and pop make him interesting. It’s not clear if acquiring Aviles signals the beginning of a reload in Cleveland or if he’ll be deployed as a super-sub. But semi-regular playing time seems certain. Let’s see what he offer them – and what the Blue Jays are passing on.
The Kansas City Royals drafted Mike Aviles in the 7th round, 192nd overall of the 2003 MLB Amateur draft out of Concordia College in Bronxville, New York. He has major league bloodlines. His uncle Ramon Aviles played parts of 4 seasons in the bigs in the late 70s. Mike was by far the Royals’ most valuable selection of the wasted 2003 class (the Chris Lubanski draft) and, interestingly, was chosen 23 picks before Brendan Ryan. Even though he was named a Division II All-American and won its triple crown he was also a college senior from a second tier program. With no leverage, Kansas City offered him a $1,000 contract and started him with its Arizona League team. He ripped a .363/.404/.585 line with 19 doubles, 5 triples, 6 HR and 11 steals in just 52 games on his way to league MVP honours. He was 22 and playing against high schoolers so he should’ve hit the lights out. But it was a strong start for a player with something to prove.
Assigned to the high-A Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2004, Aviles continued to excel. In 126 games, he hit .300/.352/.443 with 40 2B, 6HR and a 57/39 SO/BB ratio. Aviles didn’t walk much but he showed excellent contact skills and strong gap pop, leading the league in doubles. His baserunning declined, stealing only 2 bases in 7 tries. He lacked physical tools, standing close to 5-9 with a solid build, and scouts doubted his ability to stay at shortstop. There were also questions about his unorthodox batting stance, featuring a pronounced pre-swing bat waggle. And he was 23. But Aviles had clearly shown enough to warrant a look at AA where the depth of his talent would be tested.
The Texas League offers inviting hitting environments for most players but Aviles failed to take true advantage of his new home with the Wichita Wranglers. He played 133 games but his offence slumped to .280/.318/.447 with 33 doubles, 6 triples and 14 home runs. He drove in 80 and continued to play as a serious contact bat, with a 64/30 SO/BB ratio. The walks were low and all that contact resulted in 6 double plays. Aviles did resume stealing bases effectively, with 11 in 17 tries. Defensively, he struggled badly, making a league-leading 33 errors, causing the Royals to move him around the diamond. He ultimately played SS (102), 3B (20) and 2B (12). It was a disappointing season but Aviles had a clean health record and, because he could perform at short, had an outside shot at reaching the majors if luck broke his way.
It would not happen in 2006. But the Royals promoted Aviles to the AAA Omaha Storm Chasers. There his line declined further to .264/.307/.373 in 129 games. Contact remained one of his calling cards as he swatted to a 48/28 SO/BB rate and he did come on late in the year, batting .317 over the final six weeks, and contributing a career-high 14 steals. Kansas City moved him off of shortstop to third, where he continued to struggle with the glove, making 20 errors. At 25, his ceiling looked like that of a future reserve.
He got his second kick at AAA the following season and made significant strides. In 133 games, Aviles hit .296/.332/.463 with 27 doubles, 6 triples and 17 home runs. He drove in 77 and there were signs of encouragement. The power surge didn’t affect Aviles’ approach (59/30 SO/BB). Though it did backfire on the basepaths as he hit into an ungodly 24 double plays. Defensively, the Royals tapped into Aviles’ versatility, spreading his playing time between 2B, SS and 3B. But he still made 23 errors. Still, his offence earned him Royals’ Minor League Player of the Year honours. To further hone his game, Aviles played for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuelan winter leagues. He was already 26. But had worked his way onto the Royals’ radar as someone who might be able to contribute in the majors. That offseason, he was available to every team in baseball in the Rule 5 draft. No one took him.
He didn’t break camp with the Royals in 2008 but started even stronger in Omaha, playing 51 games and hitting .336/.370/.631 with 21 doubles, 6 triples, 0 home runs and 42 RBI with a 23/11 SO/BB. Kansas City promoted him in late May and Aviles never relinquished his shot. He ultimately played 102 games, hitting .325/.354/.480 with 27 2B, 10 HR and a staggering 121 OPS+. He also stole 8 bases. The Royals went 23-37 before his recall and 52-50 with him on the roster. Aviles finished 61 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title but would’ve finished third in the American League. He did place 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting, won the Royals Player of the Year award, broke the team’s rookie batting record and, at 27, set himself up as their starting shortstop entering 2009. The big question was whether his development was real or just fluke. Judging by his 58/18 SO/BB profile and .357 BABIP, the latter seemed a real possibility.
Aviles played for Puerto Rico in the 2009 World Baseball Classic but strained his forearm. Though he opened the season as the Royals starting shortstop, the injury absolutely wrecked his performance and ultimately required Tommy John surgery. In June, his season was over. But not before he’d hit a terrible .183/.208/.250 with only 5 extra-base hits in 36 games. Worse, he flailed at everything near the plate en route to a 26/4 SO/BB. This opened the door for Yuniesky Betancourt, acquired at midseason, something Royals fans hold Aviles more accountable for than his injury performance.
In 2010, Aviles started the season behind Betancourt on the depth chart (!) and the Royals moved him to second base where he played 87 of his 110 games and hit an effective .304/.335/.413 driven by a .327 BABIP. His power was noticeably absent, resulting in only 16 doubles and 8 HR. But he swiped 14 bases and regained control of the zone (49/20 SO/BB). After a huge September spiked his overall totals, it looked like the good Aviles was back. But he was now entering his age 30 season. That winter, the Royals traded Zack Greinke (with Betancourt) to the Milwaukee Brewers in a package built around a shortstop of the future, Alcides Escobar. They would move Alex Gordon to left field and Aviles to third. He now looked like a stopgap for stud prospect Mike Moustakas.
The Royals opened 2011 at home with Aviles as their leadoff man but when he slumped early (.222/.261/.395) they optioned him to Omaha in favour of Moustakas. That was basically it for Aviles in Kansas City; a nice story whose time had run out. At the trade deadline, the Royals shipped him to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Yamaico Navarro and minor league pitcher Kendal Volz. He took quickly to Fenway, playing all over the field (including left and right), hitting .317/.340/.436 in 38 games after the trade. It was a weird year for Aviles. He ran a lot in limited playing time (14 steals in 18 tries) and managed 27 extra-base hits but didn’t show nearly enough consistency to warrant everyday duty. But he crushed left-handed pitching (.318/.348/.576) and showed strong utility skills. Curiously, Boston dealt Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro for relief help and established Aviles as its top shortstop. He played winter ball for Leones de Ponce in Puerto Rico after the season to improve his defense around the diamond.
In 2012, Aviles responded to new opportunity by posting career numbers across several categories – all of them counting stats. In truth, his offence receded badly and he hit just .250/.282/.381 despite 28 doubles, 13 HR and 60 RBI in 136 games. He stole 14 bases and was caught 6 times. His 19.3% LD rate was similar to his strong rookie year (20.2%) but his BABIP bottomed out at .269 – most of it due to an increased pop-up rate. He also lost his strong contact tool (77/23 SO/BB) at one point going more than a month without taking a walk. After a strong April, he swung at an inexcusable 43.1% of pitches outside the strike zone and didn’t play much in September as the Red Sox auditioned Jose Iglesias. Interestingly, defensive metrics were very kind to Aviles with a 2.0 Defensive WAR and only 15 errors.
In October, the Blue Jays reportedly chose him over nominal Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey as compensation for new manage John Farrell. Then flipped him to the Cleveland Indians for hard-throwing reliever Esmil Rogers.
Aviles remains very versatile in the field and appears to have improved his game at shortstop considerably over the years. This is now where his greatest value lies. Boston didn’t move him around in 2012 and the metrics suggest the stability agreed with him.
He can also hit southpaws; an asset for a Cleveland lineup built around lefties. He is still reasonably cost-effective and should be able to perform at his current level for a couple of years before his skills show decline. That said, his approach risks making his bat altogether fringy and he’ll have to control the strike zone better to keep his job. But his defense and versatility will allow him to kick around a while. And though he definitely fails to get on base enough to start regularly, he can spell a team in case of injury or matchups.
He’ll be reunited in Cleveland with Terry Francona, so expect to see Aviles playing all around the diamond to spell regulars and perhaps caddying for Lonnie Chisenhall against lefties. He’s a good fit in Cleveland as a reserve and allows the team to explore the trade market for Asdrubal Cabrera. That may be the only way for Cleveland to add top-level arms.
Mike Aviles, SS/IF
03/13/81 Bats: R Throws: R HT: 5-10 WT: 205
New York, New York High School: Middletown
Drafted by Kansas City in the 7th round, 192nd overall, in 2003 MLB Amateur Draft.
Acquired: Traded to Cleveland on November 3, 2012.
Contract Status: Arbitration eligible; FA in 2015.
2012 Salary: $1,200,000
Service Time: 3.091