When it comes to elite level play at the catcher's position in 2011, Alex Avila is right at the top of the list. He hit for average, he hit for power, an in the end he may have been the best value at the position giving his meager draft day cost. Let's take a look at his 2011 effort and try to come up with a game plan of how he should be treated in 2012 drafts.
Over the first two seasons of his career Avila, the Tigers' backstop, had appeared in 104 games with 355 at-bats. In that time he hit a ordinary .237 with 12 homers, 45 RBI and 37 runs scored. He also posted a .327 OBP, two points below the league average, and his .383 SLG was well below the league mark of .411. None of that pointed to a massive breakout in 2011 as his OBP of .389 actually bettered his career SLG percentage coming into the year. All told he fell just a couple of hits short of batting .300 (he finished at .295), as he hit 19 homers, drove in 82 runs, scored 63 times and posted an impressive .895 OPS. In the end he finished third at the position in batting average, sixth in homers, third in RBI, sixth in runs, and first in OBP/SLG/OPS. Told you he had a remarkable season.
How did he have so much success? He walked a fair amount helping to that great OBP, and those free passes helped to offset a K-rate that reach nearly a quarter of his at-bats (23.8 percent). As a result of the high punch out total, his 0.56 BB/K mark was just barely better than the league average. That doesn't speak too well for his ability to push for a .300 average, and there are other reasons to be concerned about his ability to be an elite option in the batting average category. His line drive rate of 21.7 percent is a bit elevated, but after a 21.5 percent mark in 2010 it might just be that he hits a few more line drives than most (his level is certainly sustainable). However, there is a miniscule chance that he will be able to replicate his BABIP success even with that strong line drive rate. After posting marks of .308 and .278 his first two abbreviated campaigns, numbers right in line with the .290-.300 big league average, that number flew all the way up to .366 in 2011. Avila doesn't hit enough line drives for that number to be sustainable, and being a painfully slow runner will not allow him to outrun those grounders that are almost a necessity to sustain that stratospheric level. The bottom line is that he could hit just as many line drives as he did in 2011 and still see his actually batting average fall .020 points.
As for the homers, it seems possible that he could sustain his production in that 15-20 range. In his last year in the minors in 2009 he hit 12 bombs in 93 games, and last year's total of 19 wasn't out of the realm of the expected for a player who also posted a fly ball rate of 40.5 percent and a 13.8 HR/F ratio. However, it should be pointed out that there is also a fair chance that his HR/F ratio will regress a bit in 2012, meaning that he might have a hard time matching, let alone eclipsing, his 2011 homer total.
So where do you draft Avila in 2012? It certainly wouldn't be a stretch to have him in the top-5 for next season, but I would hazard caution in terms of expectations. Avila should have another solid season, but there just aren't that many catchers that post back-to-back efforts of .295-19-80 (in fact, only two catchers have done that in the 21st century, and they are both retired – Mike Piazza in 2000-01 and Javier Lopez in 2003-04). That's right, there's no Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez or Brian McCann on that list. Moreover, the catcher's position is fraught with danger because of the ever present injury risk, so I'm never going to reach on a catcher at the draft table. I expect Avila to be over-drafted next season, but there is still a very reasonable expectation that he will once again be a top-10 catcher in 2012.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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