With his rehab behind him, Aviles ready to prove his worth
After what seemed like an eternity for Robbie Aviles, he had finally found a place he could call home. Fresh off his first home start with the Scrappers this week, he couldn’t keep a straight face.
“I started off on the road, so it was great to pitch at home,” said a grinning Aviles of his new accommodations in Mahoning Valley. “I love everything, the field, the atmosphere, the fans, I wish all my starts were at home. I love it here.”
The toothy smile that never left his face as he greeted fans after the game was indicative of how he felt. No one can blame him for relishing every last moment after throwing five solid innings of one-run baseball.
It’s been a long journey back east for Aviles. Born and raised in New York State, the big 6’4’’ righty worked his entire life to realize his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer. He was oh so close, too.
Projected to be a top pick coming off of an absolutely stellar senior season at Suffern High School, a senior season that had big-league scouts beating down his door after tossing back-to-back no-hitters, he had to get the crushing news that so many pitchers before him had been given: he had torn his ulna collateral ligament and would require Tommy John surgery.
The timing couldn’t have been much worse, either, as it came just eight days before the 2010 First Year Player Draft. Aviles was projected by many to be a second or third-round pick (and even a fringe first-rounder by a few), but his injury derailed any hopes he had of being taken that high.
He ended up sliding to the seventh round, where the Indians selected him with the 210th overall pick. Aviles signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Florida, but ultimately was inked by Cleveland in mid-July, and had his surgery shortly after. That was the beginning of his long, slow stint in Arizona.
After spending his first year rehabbing, Aviles was able to make it back at the end of the 2011 season to pitch nine innings in the Arizona Rookie League, allowing seven earned runs with seven strikeouts.
He followed that up with a few innings in the Fall Instructional League, and returned to Arizona in February to begin his first full season of professional baseball. After remaining in Arizona for extended spring training, Aviles was assigned to Mahoning Valley, almost two full years after being drafted.
“Arizona was good, with a lot of instruction and stuff, but now I really feel like I’m starting my minor league career with actual home games, stadiums, and fans,” said Aviles. “It was a very long two years. Probably sixty percent of that time was rehab and getting my feet wet, but now it’s show time. I’m ready to get on the mound and show what I’m here for.”
He’s finally getting a chance to showcase what he’s been working on since the injury. Aviles throws a four-seam fastball and a sinker, as well as a “slurve” and good changeup. What he calls his “breaking-ball” is still a work in progress, but it’s something he’s worked on quite a bit with pitching coach Greg Hibbard to get nailed down.
“Out of everything, I probably lost my curveball-slash-slider the most. But coach Hibbert has been helping me out with that, and we really think that we narrowed it down the last couple of weeks, so I’m really trying to perfect that.”
“When we drafted him, he had a curveball that was sort of slurve-ish, so he’s still kind-of caught in between a slider and curveball,” said Hibbard. “We want to solidify what it’s going to be. For him, it’s probably going to be more of a slider, because he’s probably going to be a sinker-slider guy.”
Aviles is confident in the progress he’s made on his sinker. He has looked to the pitch quite a bit in his first two starts, getting batters to beat the ball into the ground while recording 14 groundball outs in nine innings of work.
“I’ve worked on that a lot with [Hibbard] and the two-seamer’s really coming. I throw it almost as much as my four-seamer, and I’m getting some good movement with it.”
Through his first two starts in 2012, Aviles is 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA, a strikeout and three walks. As the season moves forward and he gets more comfortable with his pitches, that strikeout total will likely improve.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Aviles will look to show the Indians brass that he is healthy and able to climb the minor league ladder.
“My goal is just to first of all have a healthy year,” said Aviles. “I just want to show that I am a pitcher and I’m ready to help out the organization.”
For now, though, he’s just happy to be in Mahoning Valley and out of Arizona.
“I feel like I’m back to civilization now in Ohio” he quipped. “I’m not one for lizards and scorpions and stuff.”