By JAY LeBLANC
When the University of Georgia football coaching staff saw Xavier Avery take the pigskin and accelerate during his days as a running back at Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga., they envisioned him as a possible replacement for Knowshon Moreno. The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, believed Avery’s future was on the diamond, as a speedy outfielder in the Carl Crawford mold. Luckily for the O’s - and much to the dismay of the Bulldogs - baseball is Avery’s first love, and he opted to sign for a $900,000 bonus last summer after Baltimore made him a second-round pick.
Avery didn’t face top-notch competition in high school and was viewed as somewhat raw when he was drafted as a result, but he held his own in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his pro debut. Avery, who hits from the left side, managed a respectable .280 average in 175 at bats and swiped 13 bases in 16 attempts, and while only nine of his hits went for extra bases (eight doubles and a triple), the Orioles think he’ll develop some power in time. His more than 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (51 K’s, 10 walks) is cause for concern, but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Avery is still just 19 years old and has plenty of time to hone his batting eye.
Some thought Avery would begin the 2009 season in extended spring training and then report to the short-season Class A Aberdeen IronBirds when their season begins in mid-June, but the Orioles decided to challenge him with an assignment to the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds. Avery started slow but has found a groove this month. He’s hit .529 since May 1 to bring his season average up to .267, and has stolen seven bases in 10 attempts so far this year. On the downside, Avery has fanned 27 times in 86 at bats and drawn only one walk. I recently had a chance to speak with Avery, who entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the 13th best prospect in the Orioles organization.
Q: You passed up a football scholarship to Georgia to sign with the Orioles. Was that a difficult decision for you?
A: Not really. My first love was always baseball, so that kind of made it easier. And going straight out of high school to pro ball was something I always wanted to do, so it wasn’t that hard.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of the game - is it hitting, defense or base running?
A: Well, to me, it’s hitting. I consider hitting the biggest part of the game - all the hitters do, really. And as far as pitchers, since they don’t hit, it’s pitching to them, but to me it’s hitting.
Q: At this point in your development, what are your strengths as a baseball player, and what are your weaknesses?
A: My strengths … well, everybody knows my strengths, and that’s speed, and tracking down balls in the outfield. And since a great batting average is hitting over .300 and that’s still failing, everybody’s weakness, to me, is hitting. That’s what I feel like I should work on the most, is hitting.
Q: Do you step up to the plate with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions?
A: I come up with an approach. Everybody comes to the plate with an approach, so I have a plan in my head of what I’m going to do before I go up to the plate.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first full pro season?
A: Just to steal a lot of bases, hit over .300, stuff like that. Learn more about the game as time goes on. Put in my dues, really.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2008 -Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.