01 December 2012

Xavier Avery, from 220 Miles Away

by Joe Reisel

I have the privilege of serving as an Milb.com datacaster and as a Baseball Info Solutions game scorer for the Norfolk Tides. In those roles, I saw 45 Tides home games last season. My duties include recording every pitch for ultimate entry into a computer database, so I must pay close attention to the games.

The recent Orioles-Mariners trade, in which Robert Andino went to Seattle in exchange for Trayvon Robinson, has attracted interest on this blog. A key issue is how this trade will affect Tides prospect Xavier Avery. Because I saw him play 30 games at Norfolk last year, I think I have a useful perspective on Avery’s potential. I don’t think he’s ready for the major leagues. I think he’s been rushed his entire career, and I’m afraid his premature promotions may have damaged his development to the point where he won’t have much of a major-league career.

Avery has outstanding speed, although he’s not an adept basestealer. He has shown an ability to bunt for base hits. But Avery’s batting lacks refinement. When he makes solid contact, he has pop – he hit 8 home runs in 458 plate appearances. But he doesn’t make solid contact often enough – he hit only .236 and, amazingly for someone with his speed, only 13 doubles. He has yet to learn how to hit line drives, and too often his swing looks awkward. He increased his walks to 51 – a career high in the fewest full-season plate appearance of his career – but his strikeout rate remains too high for a player with the power he has. Defensively, Avery also is a work in progress. He has to put his speed to good use in the outfield because he doesn’t read the ball well and doesn’t run good routes. He does have the range to play center field. He has a below-average throwing arm, and he really can’t play right field (he’s played 2 innings in right field in his career.)

It’s almost impossible to refine skills as raw as Avery’s at AAA. First, there are more experienced pitchers who are able to exploit weaknesses. But more importantly, at AAA players are expected to have more fully developed skills. Pitchers are encouraged to use whatever they can to get batters out – they’re not told to throw a certain percentage of fastballs or breaking pitches. Players who are trying to develop their baseball skills, like Xavier Avery, are playing a different game than other AAA players.

Instead of playing his 19-year-old season in Delmarva, Avery would have been better served by starting 2009 in extended spring training with a June assignment to Aberdeen. He would have been ready for Delmarva at age 20 – which isn’t too old for Class A. Now  he really needs to go back to AA to refine his skills but he can’t – he’s spent a full season in AAA and the majors and will perceive his being sent back to Bowie as failure.

Right now, Avery reminds me of a poor man’s Felix Pie – an athletically gifted athlete with unrefined baseball skills. However, Pie had had much more success in the minor leagues than Avery has, and thus Pie looks to be Avery’s ceiling. Avery’s floor is an AAA lifer, occasionally called up in September to serve as a pinch runner.


Boss61 said...

Great insights on Avery. Shows how we, as casual fans can be fooled.

My son and I were intrigued by his potential and athleticism during his brief tour with the Orioles early last season. Shows just how wrong we can be, and how management was correct in sending him back down.

One cannot help but wonder how many prospects like Avery have been ruined by force-feeding over the years. Maybe one day depth up-and-down the system will again prevent that.

DempseysArmy said...

I agree with most of your assessment. Avery probably was put at the wrong level to begin his career but he did get 165 games at Bowie. That should have been sufficient time to refine his approach and contact skills.

As a positive, he still cut his K rate and increased his BB rate while moving up to AAA/MLB this season. That trend could continue and he has displayed more power than LJ Hoes. But the hit tool is brutal and 4th outfielder is likely the best Orioles fans could hope for.

Matt P said...

It's interesting you say that because the Orioles approach to young skilled raw prospects is to push them along in the minors until they reach a point where they struggle so that they're forced to learn rather than succeeding simply by having such good athletic skills.

If you're right, then this would imply that this method isn't a good idea.

Of course, if you told the Orioles that Avery would be a fourth outfielder when he was drafted then they'd probably be okay with that. He may have had a lot of potential but there were many questions and it wasn't likely he would become a bona fide centerfielder.