Avila Making a Lasting Impression

Alex Avila doesn't have the raw power to make fans stand up in their seats and wonder if what they just saw really happened, like Jesus Montero. He doesn't have the natural ability behind the plate and all around game that send scouts running back to their clubs eager to hand in their reports that have been littered with 8's, like Carlos Santana.

In fact, when many scouts and announcers come to Erie, they stumble through the pronunciation of his name. Only once they hear it do they make the connection and the typical reaction typically consists of a verse of: "Oh, Al's boy, right? The one that went to Alabama? How's he doing this year, anyways?"

Avila isn't the type of prospect that is going to make a lasting impression on first glance. He isn't going to make scouts sit around and try to one up each other with their fables like they do with Montero. He isn't going to make you feel like he's the second coming of (insert your favorite catcher here) like Santana does. He isn't going to break into Baseball America's top-50, or 100, and that's fine.

All those things will come, but to understand Avila, you have to be able to understand what he's not. Otherwise, you'll never appreciate him for what he is.

Avila, in nearly every aspect of his game, can be summed up in one word: consistent. This has been both his blessing, and his curse, depending on which side of the fence you stand on.

Consistency, is something that is so hard to attain, but often over-looked. This is why Avila is often over-looked by those guys that put together the prospect lists and why scouts don't flock to him. He isn't going to hit a 450-foot home run with a flick of a wrist.

What he will do, though, is spray doubles all across the outfield, always have quality at-bats, and play solid defense despite being transplanted from his natural position. You won't get the Alex Avila in one glance. He's like a Miles Davis album. You may not get it on first listen, but after hearing it time and again you begin to realize his brilliance.

"Avila has had a solid season at the plate so far. He's the kind of guy where you look at his numbers and they're always pretty darn good for a guy in his first year in Double-A. He has quality at-bats against both left and right handers, which is rare at this level. We're always talking about consistency—well, there it is. This guy has been our most consistent player all year," manager Tom Brookens said. "He's a force to be tended with."

Through his first 76 games, Avila has managed to post a .288/.387/.470 line with eight homers, 44 RBI and 24 doubles to go along with 43 walks and just 63 strike outs. He ranks in the top ten in the Eastern League in doubles, OBP and walks. When Avila was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 amateur draft, many people were left scratching their heads. Avila wasn't exactly what you would call a top prospect and the general consensus was that the pick was fueled by nepotism for assistant general manager Al Avila's son, more than by good baseball sense.

"When we drafted Alex Avila we thought he was a legitimate prospect and someone we think has a legitimate chance to be an everyday catcher at the big league level," General Manager Dave Dombrowski explained in an interview conducted earlier this season. "Some of those others, as you get further down in the draft, you draft them to do some people a family favor."

Through good-old fashioned hard work and dedication, Avila has not only erased any lingering whispers about the Tigers' doing his father a favor by drafting him, he has made the suits that selected him look like geniuses. Although, it hasn't been an easy road.

When Avila landed at the University of Alabama he was a switch-hitting third baseman. His freshman season was solid --he managed to post a .271/.399/.424 line -- but it wasn't exactly what you would call awe-inspiring. The coaching staff noticed that Avila was getting most his pop from the left side of the plate, so they decided to have him start hitting there exclusively. He hit 14 homers and slugging .570 the next season. The rest is now history.

These same men had the foresight to see that someone with Avila's arm and batting prowess would be invaluable behind the plate. By his junior year he was the full-time backstop. "Everyday gets me more and more relaxed back there. Last year, I was a little more uncomfortable because I had just started to catch," Avila said. "Obviously, working everyday on the fundamentals of catching has helped me out. I love the position, you have too to catch. So far everything has worked out for me."

None of this success would be possible, though, if not for Avila's intense passion and dedication for learning the intricacies and responsibilities that his new position brings.

Early in the morning, while most of his teammates are just getting out of bed, Avila can be found in the recesses of the Erie SeaWolves clubhouse wearing out the rewind button on the VCR and scribbling notes about the previous days' game. Avila is looking for anything that can help him do his job better. He studies his footwork, throws and at-bats, and also watches for tendencies in the opposing hitter so he can make up a game plan on how to call that nights' game.

"Watching tape has helped big time. About a month of so ago I wasn't feeling good back there, and I was able to get some tape and make the corrections that I've needed too to continue to progress and develop, Avila said. "It didn't hurt that we have had the opposing teams hitters on there too, so I can come up with a game plan on how to go against them."

His pitchers love him for it too. Many of them have attributed a good portion of their success to the work that Avila is willing to put into his scouting of opposing hitters and game planning that he does with them.

"Alex is a very good catcher. He's a good guy to have behind the plate. He does his scouting of the other hitters, which helps," pitcher Jon Kibler said. "It's invaluable to have a catcher that knows a little bit about the guys coming to the plate. He calls a good game. It helps that he can hit the ball as well."

Avila does it all and if his work ethic is any indication, he will continue to do so. The Tigs' Town fifth-rated prospect will likely continue to be an after thought on the national level, but it doesn't matter. While others are soaking up their accolades, he'll be in the back of the clubhouse studying video, trying to figure out how he can continue to be the most consistent player in the Eastern League.

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