02/19/11 4:45 PM EST
Aviles ready to try hand at Royals' hot corner
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Not with wind and rain sweeping through the Surprise training complex, and groundskeepers' carts anchoring the wet tarpaulins spread over the infield so they wouldn't blow away.
That put a damper on the Royals' first full-squad workout, but there's nothing that could put the fire out of Aviles' endless supply of enthusiasm.
Aviles, the Royals' rookie shortstop sensation in 2008 and their primary second baseman in 2010, is gearing up to be a third baseman in 2011.
Notice the absence of 2009 in the above chronology. That season was sabotaged by an aching arm that resulted in reconstructive elbow surgery at midseason. He's been working his way back ever since and, after a blazing final month last year, Aviles believes he's there.
His right arm is strong again.
"It feels fine, it's like it's back to normal. I can just pick up a ball and throw. I don't have to loosen up and do all kinds of arm exercises just to get out there to throw," Aviles said. "Now, I just do my arm exercises to maintain, and keep moving from there."
A year ago, Aviles had to baby his repaired arm to avoid risk of re-injury. Now, he can fire the ball across the field from third base with no concern.
The bat, which spewed such firepower in his rookie year, materialized anew in his final 20 games last season. From Sept. 13 to Oct. 3, Aviles hit .364 -- and among his 32 hits were six homers, five doubles and a triple. He knocked in 13 runs, and generally had a grand old time.
"Toward the end is when it started feeling good, I was able to swing harder, throw harder," he said. "I was able to play a little more like the normal Mike Aviles than the recovering, hurting [one]."
Yeah, the latter Aviles, who took over second base from Chris Getz, didn't create much excitement. In his first 90 games, Aviles had a mere 15 extra-base hits. But in September, manager Ned Yost saw a show worth applauding.
"He's one of those kids who has a magic wand when he gets up there. He finds holes," Yost said.
Magic wand? Well, not always, Aviles cautioned with a big smile.
"I just try to square the ball up every time, and hopefully it goes somewhere where they're not playing," Aviles said. "There are times out there when it feels like there are 30 outfielders and 30 infielders, and I can't do anything no matter how hard I hit the ball."
At this early stage, Yost is figuring on Aviles at third base. There are ample alternatives in veterans Wilson Betemit, who finished last year at third, and Pedro Feliz, a former San Francisco standout -- and, oh yes, a rookie named Mike Moustakas.
The Royals acknowledge that Moustakas is due to take over third base -- if not by Opening Day, probably sometime this season. Aviles is well aware of that.
"It doesn't faze me at all, because I know I'm going to play," Aviles said. "I just know myself, and I play three positions in the infield. I'm not a third baseman, I'm an infielder. So it doesn't matter. When he's ready to come up, I'm all for it -- because he's a guy that's going to make our lineup better. I'm really a middle infielder, I'm just playing third base, now. So it's one of those deals where it doesn't bother me. I know he's going to be the third baseman of the future, and that doesn't bother me at all because I know I'm going to play. One way or the other, I'm going to play."
For now, though, his territory is third base, a position he played regularly just one season -- in 2006 at Omaha.
"It's all right, I'm not going to say I hate it. It's definitely a different experience," Aviles said. "It's fun, it's a challenge because it's not something that I'm 100 percent used to. So it's a challenge and everybody knows I like challenges."
Infield coach Eddie Rodriguez wants to do some fine-tuning in Aviles' game at third base.
"The first thing is a bigger glove that he's going to have to get used to," Rodriguez said. "Getting used to the ball getting to him quicker. More on reaction versus a little bit more time in the middle. Plus, being aware of bunters and slow rollers, because there's a different angle to the throw. Those are the things that I'm talking about polishing up."
Yost is determined to ramp up the Royals' defense -- the American League's worst last year -- and envisions shortstop Alcides Escobar and second baseman Chris Getz tightening up the middle of the infield.
Aviles' arm being back to normal strength to make the throws from third base is a plus.
"He's back, the arm's not an issue anymore," Yost said.
Recovery from the surgery was a long process, but it now seems complete.
"It's one of those things that take time," Aviles said. "I did my time, and when it was ready to go, I let it go -- and we went from there."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.