This past week the Tigers signed all star catcher Victor Martinez to a lengthy four year contract. At first glance, this looked like bad news for Alex Avila, the tigers rookie catcher looking to take over the reins as the tigers number one catcher in his sophomore season. He had already started to take the job from Gerald Laird by the end of last season.
Avila doesn’t have to worry. The tigers signed Martinez for his bat, not his catching liabilities. V-Mart instead will see time in the tigers everyday line up at DH and will start at catcher only when Avila needs a rest. It gives the tigers a little flexibility with Avila, if he under performs then Martinez might see more time behind the plate.
Avila on the other hand still has a lot of learning to do. He was fast tracked to the big leagues and has been learning on the job. He made his major league debut as a late call up in August 2009 and he hasn’t looked back. He appeared in 29 games that season and hit .279 with 5 home runs. There was talk he would be start the 2010 season on the Mud Hens, the tigers AAA team, but he had a strong spring training and forced the tigers to debate whether he could help the big league club or if he would benefit from more at bats in the minor leagues.
He won the debate and ended up appearing in more games then Gerald Laird with the big league club. When given the opportunity to catch regularly down the stretch he seemed to thrive with the additional playing time. This put him in line to be the starter for the 2011 season. With Victor Martinez slated in as predominantly a DH guy, Avila is still the starter.
Avila comes from a baseball family and that has certainly been to his benefit. The Detroit Tigers assistant general manager happens to be his father, Al Avila. He no doubt had a hand in drafting his son in the 34th round out of high school. Alex decided to go to college instead where he was then drafted again by the tigers in the 5th round in 2008.
He signed with the tigers and spent the rest of the 2008 season with West Michigan, the Tigers single A affiliate. In just over 2 months there he played in 58 games and had a .305 batting average. He moved up to Erie, the double A affiliate and spent almost 4 months there playing in 98 games batting .264 with 12 home runs. That got him the call up to the majors, after barely a year in the minors.
It is hard to know what to expect from Avila, especially considering he has already nearly played as many games in the big leagues as he has in the minors. It appears that he does play better when he plays more often. Defensively he is still relatively new to the catching position. When he was drafted by the tigers out of high school in the 34th round he was not a catcher. He only began to learn the position as a collegiate. He should improve on the defense aspect of his game as the learning curve dictates, but his 32% success rate of throwing out runners already looks solid.
He has the advantage of the tigers lacking in the catching depth department, although he will need to hit or else the tigers may consider it worth while to take Martinez’s lack of defense and find another bat within the system to DH. With the big club, playing regularly a modest projection for him would be 10-15 home runs with a .260 average.