Aviles eager for spring games
Royals infielder rehabbing from Tommy John surgery
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- An intrasquad game is planned for the Royals on Tuesday, and shortstop Mike Aviles is scheduled to play second base on one of the teams.
It's terrific news for Aviles that he's playing at any position considering that he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow last July 8. He's just not ready to make the long throws from shortstop to first base just yet.
"The wing is coming good, it's definitely coming along," Aviles said. "Little by little, every day it's feeling a little better. It's one of those things that has its ups and downs, but it's definitely on the upside right now."
Aviles could begin making the longer throws later this week depending on what his arm tells him.
"Lots of the stuff I do is to add tolerance, so I just have to listen to my arm," Aviles said. "The shorter the distance, the better it is to throw, the easier it is to throw a little firmer. It's definitely not 100 percent -- but getting toward it."
As for hitting, Aviles says it's full go at the plate. Actually, he's ahead of the typical recovery schedule for Tommy John surgery.
No one is certain at this point if Aviles, the 2008 Royals Player of the Year, will be physically ready to start the season in the Major Leagues or will have a rehabilitation stint in the Minors. Certainly he's eager to get into Cactus League games in camp.
"I can't imagine why I wouldn't play in any games this spring, I would love to," Aviles said. "I feel good enough to where I can; it's just a matter if the training staff agrees and [manager Trey Hillman] wants to put me in there."
Aviles, who'll turn 29 on March 13, was the epitome of the rags-to-riches story two years ago when he was summoned from Triple-A Omaha to take over shortstop from Tony Pena Jr. After spending two-plus seasons with Omaha, Aviles became a sensation, recording the highest rookie average in club history at .325. He was also a revelation defensively, with good range and a strong arm.
Then, geared up for a full season in 2009 as the Royals' everyday shortstop, he was slowed down by pain his right arm. As Aviles went through camp and playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, things just weren't right. But he soldiered on and played in 32 of the Royals' first 35 games.
"It was really sore and stiff and it just got to a point where I couldn't take it any more," he said.
So finally he spoke up and told the Royals how much he was hurting.
"I didn't say anything at first because I figured it was just normal stiffness and soreness that I could play through, but it didn't really work out all that well," Aviles said. "And it actually was hurt far worse than I thought it was."
Yes, there was a reason behind that .194 average and those faltering throws.
"When you'd make a throw it would throb and ache so it started bothering me hitting. All I was worried about was putting my hands in a good position to where it was OK to swing and it didn't bother me," Aviles said. "There were certain pitches I couldn't hit because of it. When I extended my arm, it'd send a nice shooting pain into my arm."
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Then the reality of surgery hit Aviles, and the need for another shortstop hit the Royals. Hence, last July 10, they traded two young pitching prospects to Seattle for Yuniesky Betancourt.
So now, if Aviles is to prove he can again man shortstop for the Royals, he has two mountains to climb -- Mt. Elbow and Mt. Betancourt.
Aviles looks at the rigorous test ahead with resoundingly good cheer. The big smile is intact, and so is his gritty resolve.
"Of course it's tough, but I'm a tough kid," he said. "Things like that don't bother me. I'm used to adversity, I'm used to challenges. It's just another bump in the road."
Aviles was a seventh-round Draft choice in 2003 out of little Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. Nobody really got too excited about it.
"Right from the minute I signed, I wasn't basically your prototypical shortstop. I wasn't a guy that you're banking on making it to the big leagues," Aviles said. "I mean I was given a thousand bucks. I don't know of many people that you give a thousand bucks and you're planning on them being a starter on your team in the big leagues."
"But I overcame that. There were always questions about whether I would hit in pro ball because I played in a Division II school. Those are the things I like to hear because it gives you a challenge and I can prove people wrong. I like that. It makes me happy; it makes me sleep good at night."
As Aviles was laboring through 624 Minor League games in six seasons, he got pegged as a probable backup infielder if, indeed, he someday made it to the Majors. At Omaha, the Royals had him playing some second base and third in addition to shortstop.
Backup? Aviles wasn't listening to that assessment.
"I mean if I wasn't figuring on being a starter at some point in my career, I'd probably be going home and retiring," he said. "Who wants to aim to be a backup player? Nobody does. Everybody wants to play and wants to be a starter."
These days, Aviles is happy not only about his recovery from surgery but also his marriage last Nov. 7 to Jessy Poulsen at Bountiful, Utah. They honeymooned on Antigua in the Caribbean.
"It was definitely fun, a great event, I had a blast," he said. "I'm sure she did."
Aviles is diving into Spring Training with his typical enthusiasm and optimism.
"You can't scout heart and determination. There's no scout that can tell me that someone has a heart and determination, and those are two of my best attributes. I may not have the best tools on the team, but I know I care," Aviles said. "It bothers me to lose and it bothers me to fail. So with those two things being said, I like my chances always."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.