He hit a solid .260 combined between the two A-ball levels last year and finished second in the farm system with 58 stolen bases.
“I worked on hitting the ball hard last year,” Avelino said. “I had to find balance at the plate and it worked. This spring I worked very hard on my hitting and timing at the plate.”
Looking back at 2015, Avelino took some major strides in becoming a better all-around player. He showed some previously hidden power too, hitting four home runs in the pitcher friendly Florida State League and drew walks. He didn’t hit for a very high average, batting .252 but showed enough plate discipline to walk 32 times.
“It’s a big jump going from Charleston to Tampa,” hitting coach Tommy Slater said. “Once he settled in, he did a good job of getting good pitches to hit and not just going up there and swinging.”
This year it seems like Avelino has a plan and is sticking to it for the most part. He has seven walks compared to only eleven strikeouts through 19 games. Slater said that Avelino was having good at-bats early on but they just weren’t falling for him. Being able to stay patient at the plate and draw walks when he couldn’t buy a hit early is a great sign for the future.
“Like a lot of young hitters, they get away from that plan at times they probably shouldn’t,” manager Patrick Osborn said. “He can drive the ball through the middle of the field and every once in a while he gets a little eager and jumpy and pulls off the ball. Maybe he had a pitch he could have done something with he’ll hit it off the end of the bat or missing the pitch completely.”
He struggled in the first week of games, hitting .071 in his first 28 at-bats, but in his last ten games he is hitting .268 and slugged a pair of home runs in two of his last three games.
Slater thinks it’s too early to look at the numbers to get any real read on how a player is doing but clearly something changed and he and Osborn agree.
“He made an adjustment mechanically,” Osborn said. “I think he’s found a good loading spot pre-pitch that gets him into a good position to hit. Early on, everything was beating him and he was chopping a lot of balls into the ground because he was making contact with the ball too deep.”
Osborn doesn’t think Avelino will ever have plus power [despite hitting two home runs in the last three games], but he wouldn’t say that it’s out of the question and if he does develop some power down the road that will set him apart even more from other shortstop prospects.
“He has the potential to spray the ball gap to gap for doubles,” Slater said. “This park [Steinbrenner Field] plays big so it’s gonna suppress some power but he can hit it.”
Defensively, Avelino has made the switch to second base because Jorge Mateo is blocking his path both short-term and potentially long-term too. Osborn said if Avelino was on another team he would be the starting shortstop, he’s that good.
"I feel very, very comfortable at second,” Avelino said. “Second base doesn’t worry me.”
“Going from short to second is a whole different beast,” Osborn said. “Avelino has done really well in the transition. He has a plus arm which is huge at second because it will help turn double plays that normally wouldn’t be turned with another guy there.”
Slater thinks that Avelino’s best attribute is that he works harder than anyone else and he is a genuinely good guy. Something that was also impressive was Avelino flat-out refused to have a translator speak for him; he wanted to do the interview himself and that shows how willing he is learn something and step out of his comfort zone.
Avelino has very speed and it has shown already this year with seven stolen bases. He was caught stealing once in each of the first two games and has rattled off seven straight successful attempts. He stole 38 bases in 2015 for the Tampa Yankees but was caught 15 times. With any young base stealer they are going to have to learn when the right time is to steal a bag and prove that they can do that consistently.
Though the start of the season for Avelino was slow, there were signs that it was just a matter of time before he started breaking out and the last week or so is proof positive of that.
“This system is crowded with young, good hitters and Avelino is one of them,” Osborn concluded.