For the second time, the Detroit Tigers selected the son of Assistant General Manager Al Avila. After selecting him out of high school in 2005, Alex opted to attend Alabama to refine his game, and he turned himself into a solid prospect; one the Tigers popped in the fifth round this year. Playing regularly (60) games as a true freshman, Alex was the Tide's primary designated hitter throughout the 2006 season. In the end, he hit .271 with forty runs driven in. During his sophomore campaign, Avila mixed time between the infield corners and DH, while leading the team with 14 home runs and hitting .291. SEC coaches named him to the All-SEC 2nd Team, while SEBaseball.com named him to the honorable mention squad.
Alabama moved him behind the plate to take advantage of his arm strength heading to his third season, and the move improved his draft stock. In preparation for that, Alex spent some time in the summer of 2007 working with Tiger catch Ivan Rodriguez. Avila's offense took another step forward this year, posting a strong .343 average while again leading the team with 17 home runs. Avila also led the team with 62 runs driven in and 147 total bases on the season. In the post-season, at the Conway Regional, Avila hit at a .417 clip and was commensurately named to the All-Tournament Team. Alex was also named to the SEC All-Tournament Team on the back of a .375 average and four RBI in four games.
Avila's best tool is his bat, followed by his strong right arm. His arm strength and difficulties in the field are the primary reasons he was moved behind the plate. He has shown a pretty good aptitude for the position, but he is still very raw as a backstop. His arm strength plays well, lending to 1.85-1.90 pop times in workouts. His footwork is sloppy and his throws can lose accuracy as a result. Alex did call his own games behind the plate this year, which is a positive on his side.
At the plate, Alex is extremely selective, almost to a fault. He willing to take the closest of pitches simply because his batting eye is that refined. While is still an excellent hitter and can square up those pitches he deems acceptable, he might better served by becoming a touch more aggressive. He has good pop in his bat and his positive swing mechanics project to transfer well to wood bats. He should hit for average and some power as a pro, while drawing a fair number of walks.
Having spent extensive time around the game throughout his youth, Avila is very poised on the field and very knowledgeable regarding the intricacies of the game. There are many who believe with additional work, that he can become a solid defensive catcher. If not, his bat should still play, but given his struggles on the infield corners in the past he may have to move to the DH slot.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% CLG
Avila is fairly athletic despite his thick, durable frame. He has the size and strength that teams desire behind the plate, and he should hold up well to the rigors of working back there. Having not spent a lot of time at catcher, his knees have not seen the typical wear and tear, which should bode well for him going forward.
The Tigers are likely to sign Avila this time around, and he could quickly become the top catching prospect in the system. While he will likely work at Oneonta once signing, there are few catchers in the system that will stand in his way if he handles pro pitchers well both at the plate and behind it. The Tigers have a penchant for drafting relatives of organization members, but Avila's raw talent doesn't make this a pure nepotism pick. Alex's advancement through the system will depend entirely on his defensive progress, but his advanced offensive approach could allow him to be at Lakeland in 2009.
UPDATE: Word has reported that Avila was expected to sign on Wednesday, though no contract or dollar amount has been reported or confirmed.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.