Mike Aviles gets suprising shot
After working on his outfield skills, he's leading candidate to be Red Sox shortstop
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine stood on one of the back fields at the team's player development complex Monday morning, and under a bright sunny sky, he was working with utilityman Mike Aviles at shortstop.
The two talked about all the different aspects of the position, where Aviles, Nick Punto and Jose Iglesias will be competing this spring for the starting job. Valentine recently said that he believes Aviles has the DNA to be the club's everyday shortstop. How that will shake out remains to be seen.
"I wanted to express to him that I'll have an opinion whether or not he can grasp the ideas and execute things after I see him," Valentine said after the voluntary workout. "The first look of him catching and throwing a ball, it looked very good. Yup, very good."
Earlier in the offseason, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington stated that Marco Scutaro would return as Boston's starting shortstop in 2012. The club picked up a contract option on the veteran infielder, but traded him to the Colorado Rockies last month in exchange for pitcher Clayton Mortensen.
When Aviles learned of the transaction, it took him by total surprise.
"Anytime you have your starting shortstop get traded, I didn't know anything about it, so it was definitely a surprise," Aviles said. "I know we got a pitcher in return and it opened the door for us to get Cody [Ross], and that helps out. It also opens up an opportunity at shortstop. I'm excited for that. I know Nick is and we'll have a good time with it."
Of the three players vying for the starting job, Aviles is the only one who already has arrived at camp. It's his normal routine and he looks ready for the challenge.
"I come into camp as I do every year," Aviles said. "I prepare to play every day and then pretty much fall in accordingly. If it turns out to be every day at short, then that's the case. If not, and it's more of a super-utility role, that's fine also. I prepare myself to play 162 and beyond."
There's been a revolving door at shortstop in Boston since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in the middle of the 2004 season.
The Red Sox have used Orlando Cabrera, Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria, Alex Cora, Alex Gonzalez, Nick Green, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie and Scutaro at the position, each playing at least 50 games at short since Garciaparra was dealt.
Now the job of being the double-play partner for Dustin Pedroia is open again.
The competition will be fun to watch, and for Aviles, it'll be fun to compete.
"I played against Nick quite a bit when he was with the Twins and I was with the Royals. I love the way he plays," Aviles said. "It's going to be fun. I like it because he's the kind of guy who has a lot of energy, plays hard and he's out there doing his job. I like that because I'm the same way."
Aviles, 30, believes he can play every day.
"I feel like I can," he said. "I've done it over the course of my career."
During his first season with the Kansas City Royals, in 2008, Aviles played 91 games at shortstop. Overall, he played 144 games at short during his four seasons with the Royals. The Red Sox acquired Aviles at the trade deadline last July in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers, and he played eight games at short, 22 at third, seven at second base and 10 in the outfield.
It's easy to classify him as a super-utilityman, but Aviles hopes to stick at short.
"It's a position that's more comfortable for me and fun," he said. "I know if I had to do it on an everyday basis it wouldn't be a problem for me."
Offensively, Aviles has proved that when he's given a chance to play every day, he produces. In the two seasons that he has played more than 100 games (2008 and 2010), he hit .325 and .304 respectively.
"I think I can swing the bat pretty well," Aviles said. "I think I've shown that over the course of my career and I feel like the key is just to go out and play. Over the course of my career, when I've been left alone and have been able to just play, I've been fine and I've done well."
Because of his versatility, the Red Sox asked him to play winter ball in Puerto Rico to work on his skills in the outfield. Aviles gladly accepted.
"I was like, 'Cool.' Obviously I'm looking at a team that's a perennial winner, always in contention for the playoffs and a World Series, and they're looking for a way to get me in the lineup," Aviles said.
"I'm coming from the Royals organization where we were last or next to last for a couple of years. It makes me feel good where a team that's notorious for winning is looking for a way to get me into the lineup. I took it as a positive."
Aviles told Cherington to give him just over a month to get into complete baseball shape. Aviles did not want to go to Puerto Rico and simply go through the motions. He wanted to make it completely worth it, and that's what he was able to do.
"I wanted to make sure I did it the right way," he said. "I wanted to get something out of it and go out there and learn."
Aviles spent only two weeks in Puerto Rico, but admitted it felt like two months. When he came back home, he felt his game was versatile enough that he could help the Red Sox in whatever capacity they needed in 2012.
Even after the Red Sox traded Scutaro and Aviles realized he would be competing for the starting job at shortstop, he did not feel like he wasted his time working on his outfield skills.
"At first, you start thinking, 'Man, that was a waste.' But then you start thinking about it, and in all honesty, I just added something else to my belt. I don't think it was a waste. If I don't play one day in the outfield this year, it's still not a waste because I know that at any given moment if I have to go out there, I'm ready."
Aviles also knows the shortstop job won't be handed to him. He has to earn it. It will be a strong competition for the starting job and Aviles believes he can handle it.
"Unless you're a superstar, you're looking for an opportunity," Aviles said. "When you get that opportunity, you've got to take it and run and hopefully that'll be the case this year."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.