Just over a week ago I wrote this, which was (and is!) an exploration of possible candidates for the Seattle Mariners fourth outfielder spot. Because this team has virtually no true starting-quality outfielders, the guy on the bench would ideally provide strong defense and enough offensive upside to warrant the two or so starts he’d likely wind up making a week. In my post, I identified a few guys who seemed like the most likely candidates for the job. I did not include Xavier Avery. Today, Lloyd McClendon talked about Avery, and he said some very nice things:
“He makes things happen. He has a couple of tools that are game changing,” said McClendon. The tools, one would assume, are speed and defense, and based on McClendon’s comments, it seems like Avery is in the mix for a big league job. So far this spring, he’s been able to highlight his heads-up baserunning and the speed that allows him to be effective on the move. Over the first week of practice games, Avery has turned heads. But is he a real candidate for the majors? Who is Xavier Avery, really?
Xavier Avery is a 24-year-old lefty outfielder who played only three games with Tacoma last year. He did most of his playing as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, before being acquired in a waiver trade that finalized Michael Morse‘s second exodus from Seattle. Avery came to the Mariners organization as a minor league of little acclaim, then didn’t really do anything in Tacoma. Over 333 plate appearances with AAA Norfolk that same year, he hit .237/.312/.312. That’s a .312 on base percentage, and a .312 slugging percentage. That’s awful. Over 333 plate appearances with AAA Norfolk last year, Xavier Avery was awful.
It stands to reason that the Mariners did not target Avery for his time in AAA, however, seeing as he had a much better showing at AA earlier that year. Over 186 plate appearances, Avery slashed .300/.391/.406. Still no power, but not bad for a speed-and-defense guy. The Orioles promoted him, and he responded by hitting (or not hitting) his way out of the organization. That Avery didn’t hit in AAA was hardly a surprise, seeing as he’d hardly hit anywhere before outside of a 2010 season spent in high-A ball. He posted a 107 wRC+ there, which is to say that his biggest offensive triumph was being a roughly league-average hitter.
So in review, what we have here is a guy who has been in the minors for six years, and who has sustained offensive success over exactly one of those years. Oh yeah, and get this: his BABIP in AA last season? .409. Avery only hit because he was immensely lucky. His career mark is .286, which is concerning considering that BABIP is largely driven by footspeed and quality of contact. Avery is fast, sure, but if you make crappy contact, your speed can only matter so much. Avery doesn’t have the BABIP you’d expect out of his player profile because he’s simply a lesser hitter than most speedy slap hitter types.
Xavier Avery is fast, and Lloyd McClendon likes that he’s fast. Avery is also a good defender, and McClendon likes that, too. But the Mariners have Abraham Almonte, and Abe Almonte is fast. Abe Almonte is a good defender, too, and last year over 396 plate appearances in AAA he hit .314/.403/.491. After dominating the high minors for a year, he spent September in a Mariners uniform and provided league average offense and eye-catching everything else. In short, Avery’s path to Seattle is blocked by a guy who all the same things as him, but who can also hit a little.
Spring is a time where it seems like everyone could make the club. Especially right now, with the Cactus Mariners sitting at 5-1, it’s important to remember that spring training performance isn’t literally meaningless, but it’s almost literally meaningless. Lloyd McClendon likes Xavier Avery’s speed and defense. Good, that means the manager is paying attention. But in order to beat out more worthy competition, Avery is going to have to spend his March masquerading as a monster with the bat. And a monster with the bat is something that Xavier Avery decidedly is not.