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.
The Tigers debuted Avila in A-ball with West Michigan, and after a modest ten-game start in June, he went on a tear through July and August. As the Runner-Up for the TigsTown West Michigan Player of the Month, Avila hit a shiny .337/.402/.382, with four doubles and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He was a bridesmaid no more in August, taking home the Player of the Month honor himself; posting a .326/.406/.461 line with nine more doubles and his first professional home run.
Avila's best tool is his bat, followed by his strong right arm. His arm strength and difficulties in the field at third base are the primary reasons he was moved behind the plate. He has shown a pretty good aptitude for the position, but he is still raw as a backstop. His arm strength plays well, lending to 1.85-1.90 pop times in workouts. His footwork needs refinement for him to gain additional accuracy on his throws. Alex did call his own games behind the plate this year, which is a positive on his side. Early returns from coaches last summer indicated he was taking well to the position, and he could stay there long term.
At the plate, Alex is extremely selective, almost to a fault. He is willing to take the closest of pitches simply because his batting eye is that refined. While still an excellent hitter that can square up those pitches he deems acceptable, he might be better served by becoming a touch more aggressive. He has average power to all fields and he should be able to drive doubles and hit 12-18 home runs annually at his peak. His offensive profile is similar to that of Joe Mauer in that he should hit for average, draw walks, and have average power; though few expect him to peak at as high a level as Mauer.
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. If he can stick at catcher over the next few years, he should be the heir apparent to Gerald Laird in Detroit. He has the stick and the work ethic to make it happen, and his refined bat could move him quicker than some expect.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A
Avila has a thick frame that lends well to catching. He was durable throughout college, and he showed little wear as the season progressed and he continued to participate in the fall instructional league. As he becomes a more efficient receiver behind the plate, his risk of injury should decrease even more.
Avila was invited to Major League camp this spring, more because he provided an additional glove during times of heavy pitcher workload, than that he actually had a chance to make the Tiger roster. The organization likes his bat and believes in his glove, and they are expected to push him aggressively. After a very strong showing in West Michigan in 2008, starting the 2009 season in Lakeland is not out of the realm of possibility. If he does that, he could see Detroit by the close of 2010 for a cup of coffee.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.