The Detroit Tigers won a second consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history last year, but there were some performances that were off from 2011. Catcher Alex Avila, an All-Star in ’11, fell a bit back to earth last season, especially in the power department. How will Avila perform this season? Will his power stroke return?
At 26, Avila is headed into what are typically the peak seasons of a player’s career. There’s little reason to believe that he won’t rebound in 2013 and put up good power numbers for the Tigers from the catcher position. The important thing to realize in regards to AA is that his 2011 season, when he finished 12th in the American League in Most Valuable Player Award voting, was a bit of a surprise for a player at the age of 24. Now, after a season where battled nagging injuries and played 25 fewer games behind the dish, Avila could be poised to drive the ball into the gaps as he did two seasons ago.
A closer look at Avila’s 2012 season shows that though he posted a significant decline in power (19 homers and 56 extra-base hits fell to nine and 32), he still maintained his knack for getting on base. Avila’s batting average dropped more than 50 points, but he still maintained a fine walk rate, in fact he walked more frequently than all but 11 players in baseball. His on-base percentage in 2012 was still a respectable .352 (61 walks in 116 games). At this pint on his career, with almost 400 games under his belt, Avila has proven that he can get on base. His offensive numbers, though lower in 2012 than in 2011, were still above average for major league catchers.
Another factor in play regards to Avila will be his health. Over the last two seasons, Avila has been hit more times behind the plate by a baseball than Fenway Park during batting practice before a Yankees/Red Sox game. If a baseball was made with iron, than Avila would be a magnet. The ball seems to have a way of finding Alex’s bare hands and wrists, not to mention other vulnerable parts of his poor body. As a result, Avila has been hobbled, nicked up, and bruised like no other catcher in the game the last two seasons.
Even so, the talented Tigers staff enjoys throwing to Avila, and he’s thrown out 31% of would-be basestealers for his career, a mark that’s 4% above league average. Avila is also a good game caller, and he’ll only get more comfortable managing games from behind the mask as he gets older.
Backup receiver extraordinaire Gerald “G-Money” Laird will not be back this year. Instead, Avila’s caddie will be Bryan Pena, a veteran backstop from Cuba who’s known for having a strong arm and very little pop in his bat. More so than in 2012, it will be imperative that Avila stay away from bumps and bruises.
Look for Avila’s production to be closer to his 2011 numbers than his 2012 numbers: 15 homers and a slugging percentage over .435 is likely. Coupled with his ability to draw walks and get on base, that will make Avila an important piece of the Detroit lineup this season.