Mike Aviles has had a strange career. He didn't get an opportunity to play in the majors until he was 27 years old and a non-prospect. He started his playing pro ball at rookie league as a 22-year-old in 2003, the same year he was selected as a seventh-round pick by the Kansas City Royals. Despite unsurprising mashing given the level and his age, the Royals never bothered to push the Division II Player of the Year through the system, giving him one level per season. It's hard to blame them, though, as his performances -- outside of Rookie League -- were never special.
When Aviles finally got to Triple-A in 2006, he was over matched. He hit just .264/.307/.373, showing little in the way of patience or power even for a shortstop, and without the glove work to make up for it. When you consider that line came in the Pacific Coast League, where the average hitter was at .271/.341/.416, it looks even worse. A repeat of the level fixed some concerns -- Aviles hit .296/.332/.463 while splitting his time among short, third, and second -- but he was 26 years old, and without a significant track record at this point.
His 2008 campaign helped him build a track record where one didn't exist. He was 27 years old, so it was easy to see this as the peak of a career minor leaguer, but after crushing the PCL to the tune of .336/.370/.631 in 227 plate appearances, the Royals called him up to the majors only to see him produce a .325/.354/.480 line in his 441 plate appearance debut.
It wasn't just his bat that all of a sudden picked up, though, as his glove -- thought to be deficient at shortstop -- all of a sudden looked like it belonged to someone else. He was worth 3.3 runs according to Fielding Runs Above Average, 0.6 defensive wins via Baseball-Reference, and 10.6 runs according to UZR. He looked the part, too, as Baseball Prospectus described him in their annual as, "having good instincts and good range to his right."
The 2009 season should have been his chance to show he was capable of repeating this out-of-nowhere performance, but instead, he began the year with "forearm soreness" and finished it in May with Tommy John surgery. It's no wonder he hit just .183/.208/.250 in his 127 plate appearances.
Healthy once more in 2010, Aviles came back and produced, hitting .304/.335/.413. It's batting-average heavy, yes, but Aviles has shown he can hit for batting average when he has two elbows at his disposal, and the league would kill* for more shortstops with that line.
*The Royals, who had the likes of Tony Pena Jr. at short before Aviles, most likely did kill.
Aviles was one of the more productive Royals, but he was just keeping infield positions warm for the mass of Kansas City prospects sitting at Omaha. Mike Moustakas was the team's future at third. Alcides Escobar, acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, was, if not the future, the player they wanted to try to make their future at short. Second base could have been an option, but Johnny Giavotella wasn't far behind to take that position from him, too. The outfield was similarly full, with Alex Gordon in left, and the surprisingly productive duo of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur holding things down in the other two-thirds.
Speculation doesn't get us very far, but it's not hard to see where life on the bench in a city he had no future in was a tough gig for Aviles, who had done nothing but produce for a bad team whenever he was on the field. He hit .221/.261/.395, still showing some pop for an infielder, but without the batting average to prop up his on-base percentage. The Red Sox took Aviles off of the Royals' hands at the trade deadline while his price was at its lowest, much like they had with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the Rangers the year before.
Aviles responded to the return to a more full-time gig and the hitter-friendly Fenway Park by once again hitting. A .317/.340/.436 line and 107 plate appearances later, the trade looks like a smart buy-low by the Red Sox front office. It's early yet, of course, but Aviles is a .288/.318/.419 hitter despite the down season with elbow problems and a career mostly spent in a pitcher's park -- chances are good we'll see more of the productive Aviles given his new environment and dual-elbow status.
And, like Saltalamacchia assuming the backstop duties months after his acquisition, thanks to the departure of Victor Martinez, Aviles is now likely Boston's starting shortstop following the Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie trades. It's not his best defensive position, but he's not bad there by any means, and he has a better bat than many shortstops around the league. He's similar to Scutaro in many ways, as his bat is solid and his glove is just good enough. They also share a history of injuries, but, like with Scutaro and Lowrie, Aviles has a capable partner at the position in Nick Punto should he suffer a DL stint.
Aviles is keeping the position warm for prospect Jose Iglesias just like he used to back in Kansas City, but it's not clear whether it's 2012 or 2013 that he needs to worry about that. Aviles's ability to play third base in a lineup with the oft-injured Kevin Youkilis makes him valuable for more than just a starting shortstop gig, too, as does his ability to crush southpaws in a lineup that is predominantly left-handed. The Red Sox will have plenty of use for a player with his swing in Fenway Park, and unlike the Royals, they'll be competing if he's reduced to a part-time role.
He might not be what we expected as the team's starting shortstop, but all he's done in his career is beat expectations and produce. If he continues to do that, then once again, he'll have done his job, and Boston's shortstop situation will be in good hands.