Xavier Avery Has Impressed So Far For The Orioles

When the Orioles drafted Xavier Avery in the second round in 2008, I wasn’t terribly excited. “Fast” plus “Raw” usually indicates (hopefully) a 4th outfielder to me, and Avery’s minor league numbers – .266/.328/.363 overall – didn’t exactly dissuade me from that view. Actually seeing him in Baltimore though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and somewhat impressed.

Batting Avery in the lead-off spot because of his speed seemed like a poor idea, but – though he’s probably not one of the team’s better hitters – he’s at least showed a nice approach there. Beyond walking at an above average 10% of his plate appearances, Avery has shown a relatively patient approach and a decent level of pitch recognition. His rate of swinging at pitches outside the strike-zone is better than league average – it was outstanding (~18%, I believe), but regressed somewhat with the Boston series (now ~26%). In that area, the questions are (1) is that legit – will Avery continue to display a patient approach, and (2) as pitchers learn more about him, will his relative lack of power mean that they can just pound the strike-zone (thus limiting his walks, even if he does remain patient)?

Avery hit just 18 home runs in over 2,000 career minor league plate appearances, but five of them did come this year. Additionally, he has driven some balls pretty deep as an Oriole – not all of his 5 extra-base hits (4 doubles, 1 triple) are due to stretching singles. If he can continue to do that, pitchers might need to respect him a little more.

Another key is keeping his on-base percentage up by getting the bat on the ball. For a non-power hitter, Avery struck out a fair bit in the minors (~23% of his PA). In the majors so far that’s down to 16%, even though his contact rate is a little worse than the average. I can buy a high BABIP from the speedy Avery – even if it doesn’t stay at .333 – but if he goes back to striking out over 20% of the time, it’ll be hard for him to hit for enough average to maintain an above average OBP if (when) his walk rate falls off some.

At 22 years old, Xavier Avery has shown an above average bat (.273/.347/.409) since being pressed into action due to injuries (Reimold and Chavez). I’m not sure how good of an outfielder he is at this point – he seems to cover a lot of ground, without taking the best routes sometimes – and he adds at least a little bit of value on the bases (75% success rate in the minors; 2 for 3 in the majors so far). I’m not ready to anoint him as the O’s starting left-fielder once everyone is back, but there’s at least a fair chance he can outplay Endy Chavez at this point, which is more than I would have said a couple month ago (though it’s probably best for Avery to continue playing every day in the minors, instead of sitting on the bench most days in Baltimore).