Aviles growing as big league shortstop
Rookie's career started not in the field, but behind the plate
ST. LOUIS -- Want to know a secret about Mike Aviles? Well, he used to wear a mask, a chest protector and shin guards.
"I used to be a catcher when I was in Little League and I just got tired of being a catcher because it wasn't fun for me," Aviles said.
"And I went to a new high school and nobody knew me. The coach asked me, 'Hey, what position do you play?' And I was like, 'Um, shortstop. That's the position I play -- I'm a shortstop.' And I've been playing there since."
Aviles laughed like a guy who has put one over on somebody. Nice trick. Today he's the starting shortstop for the Kansas City Royals.
"He's done a good job. Consistent contact. He's not an easy strikeout, not swinging out of the zone a whole lot," manager Trey Hillman said.
"I was pretty comfortable about we'd get as far as making the routine play from what we saw in Spring Training because he is fundamentally sound."
Aviles had two hits in Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Cardinals, giving him a .321 average. He's hit three home runs, a triple and six doubles and driven in six runs in his 14 games. He's made a couple errors, but has been impressive in snagging in-between hops and executing 6-3 double plays.
That was a big concern when Aviles replaced smooth-gliding Tony Pena Jr. at shortstop. But Aviles had made the plays although he tends to sometimes sink his throws to first base. The big thing is he's put some meat into a lineup that was starving for runs.
"Because of our lack of being an offensive club and scoring runs, any offense that he gives us is always going to overshadow what he's doing defensively," Hillman said.
Aviles had ample time to learn about hitting, spending two seasons and two months with the farm club at Omaha.
That's a long time in Triple-A.
"I thought I was going to run for mayor there this year," he said.
There was a more serious benefit of that residency, however.
"You get your guys that go up and down, up and down and you play against a lot of veteran guys, a lot of guys that know how to pitch," Aviles said.
"And, honestly, I think playing the two-plus years in Omaha really helped me become a better hitter in the sense that I kind of learned more about what a pitcher wants to do to try and get me out instead of just going up there and swinging. ... You watch how they pitch and understand the concept of what they're trying to do to you."
After Aviles hit his first Major League home run, Hillman had to caution him because he'd been over-swinging in the next game.
"The next day I went up to him and popped him on the forehead and told him, 'I didn't even have to see yesterday's game to know you went deep yesterday.' And he said, 'I know,'" Hillman said.
"He and Miggy [Miguel Olivo] do the same thing. It's a tendency a lot of hitters have. After they hit a home run, they get a little froggy and start leaking on that front side a little too quick."
Aviles' defense was so steady that, in the first two games at Busch Stadium, Hillman didn't use Pena as a late-inning replacement.
"This is probably the fastest field we've played on with the exception of Florida and to put a middle infielder in late, even though I still believe Tony is a better defender than Mike, I felt that would really be unfair for Tony not having tracked a ball during a game," Hillman said.
During his Omaha time, Aviles also played third base and second base.
"Over the last couple of years I've gotten so comfortable at second and third, I wouldn't mind playing any one of those positions," he said. "But shortstop is my natural position."
Really? Not catcher?
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.