Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Forgotten Man

Avila at 3rd.
Yesterday, Baseball America published it's top 20 prospects for the South Atlantic League. The West Virginia Power, a prospect-laden team, landed two players on the list. Outfielder Gregory Polanco came in at #3 and shortstop Alen Hanson came in at #6.  Other West Virginia prospects of note that did not make the list include young hitters Jose Osuna and Willy Garcia, injured bonus baby Josh Bell, and top pitching prospect Nick Kingham.

In fact, those are the six names that are almost always talked about in conversations regarding the West Virginia Power.  Eric Avila rarely gets thrown in to that list.  He's become the forgotten man.

Avila is a prefect test case for how quickly prospects are left for dead, especially after a poor season.  He originally gained some interest as a prospect in 2009 after posting a .315/.358/.494 line with 9 HR's in 267 AB's in the DSL.  Avila did that as a 18 year old and also showed good plate discipline, walking 17 times and only striking out 20 times.  As a 19 year old in 2010, Avila moved stateside to the GCL and responded with a .277/.327/.472 with 7 HR's in 195 AB's, including 33 strikeouts and 12 walks.

Avila now had gained the attention of prospect mavens as a legitimate, albeit not elite, prospect. Starting his age 20 season in the SAL with the Power, Avila had a season to be forgotten.  His .216/.275/.289 line showed a lack of ability to hit for average and power, although his plate discipline did remain palatable with 27 walks and 57 strikeouts in 380 AB's.  I did see him person a few times, and while he looked awful at the plate, he showed a strong arm and good instincts and reactions defensively at third base.

Avila's 2011 season was his death knell. His career seemingly over, despite only being 21 years old.  Unfortunately, that often is life for fringe prospects.  Going into the 2012 season, players to be mentioned on the Power were Nick Kingham and Josh Bell.  By the end of April - which saw Avila play sparingly and post a .154/.231/.385 line in 13 AB's - all the talk was about Alen Hanson's breakout campaign.  As the season progressed, Polanco began to dominate the headlines with his breakout season, along with Hanson and solid seasons from Osuna and Garcia.

Despite that, Avila had began to produce quietly in the background.  Playing in about half the games in June and July, Avila posted two months with at least .850 OPS.  Then August happened.  Avila exploded while playing full time, posting a .247/.297/.565 line in 85 AB's, smashing 7 HR's.  Avila's plate discipline was a bit shoddy with 19 strikeouts to only 6 walks.  All in all, Avila finished his age 21 campaign with solid numbers.  His final line was a .285/.315/.546, showing significant power, including 11 HR's in 185 AB's.  Avila his lefties particularly well, posting a .995 OPS, but did well against righties as well, posting a .793 OPS, splitting his HR's evenly as well (6 against LHP; 5 against RHP).  Avila did struggle with his plate discipline, walking only 8 times while striking out 40 in contrast.

Avila still is far from an elite prospect.  He has some flaws, namely his age, plate discipline, and defense, which receives below-average grades from scouts, despite my personal observations.   That said, Avila is still young enough and showed enough power that he shouldn't be forgotten.  It's probably a stretch, but if Avila could hit in March and April next season in the FSL like he did in August and September this past season, he potentially could receive a promotion to AA Altoona while still at age 22, placing him firmly back on the prospect map.