In 2011, Alex Avila, the Detroit Tigers‘ then 24-year-old catcher, emerged as one of the premier backstops in all of MLB. Avila made an All-Star team that season and was later rewarded with a Silver Slugger award. He even finished 12th in the MVP race. However, the subsequent two seasons have told a much different tale.
Avila’s batting average went from .295 in 2011 down to .243 in 2012, and then all the way down to .227 in 2013. Some fans were even crying out for Brayan Pena to be named the Tigers’ starting catcher last season before Avila finally started swinging a hot bat again in the second half.
The Tigers are now depending on Avila to revert to his 2011 form, as they have very few left-handed bats on their roster heading into the 2014 season. The injury to Andy Dirks rendered Avila and switch-hitting Victor Martinez as the only two left-handed hitters expected to be in the Tigers’ lineup every day against right-handed pitching.
That said, unexpected help did arrive in Spring Training in the form of the 23-year-old Tyler Collins. Collins is now slated to platoon in left field with the right-handed Rajai Davis, as his strong spring has earned him a spot on the Tigers’ 25-man roster. Collins batted just .241 in 54 at-bats this spring, but nine of his 13 hits were for extra bases, which obviously impressed the Tigers.
Some are still questioning whether or not Collins is ready for the big leagues, but the answer to that question will be unveiled soon enough.
The Tigers’ bench will also feature the left-handed Don Kelly and the switch-hitting Andrew Romine, but neither of them will pose a serious offensive threat when standing at home plate. Therefore, Avila is simply going to have to help Martinez pick up some of the slack and drive in his fair share of runs from the left side of the plate.
Avila showed many positive signs in Spring Training as he finished the spring batting .306/.404/.429 with four extra-base hits, including a home run. The Tigers are hoping he can carry that success into the season. Avila did, however, strike out 22 times in just 49 at-bats, but the Tigers should not be concerned as an elevated strikeout rate has always been part of his game. Even back in 2011, during Avila’s finest season to date, he struck out 131 times in 141 games.
Although the overwhelming majority of Tigers fans were pleased when Prince Fielder was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler, the move all of a sudden left the Tigers without a left-handed “thumper” in the middle of their lineup. The Tigers can make up for the loss of Fielder, but it is absolutely crucial that Avila does his part.
Opening Day is now just one day away, and the Tigers would like nothing more than to see Avila have a good game and start the season off on the right foot. Hopefully, Avila’s spring was a sign that 2014 will be his most productive season since 2011.