Short answer: Aviles the likely starter for Sox
Veteran taking nothing for granted in battle with Iglesias
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mike Aviles is the favorite in the Red Sox's competition at shortstop, which is odd, because there hasn't been a day in his professional playing life where Aviles has looked at himself as a favorite for anything.
"There's always somebody that either doubts that I can do a certain job, or doesn't feel that I may be able to be the best option at a certain position, or whatever the case may be," Aviles said. "So I always do have that chip on my shoulder, it's the way I always played."
The story is already famous in baseball circles, how Aviles, a seventh-round Draft pick of the Royals in 2003, signed for just $1,000. He played college ball at Division II Concordia College in New York -- a state that's never been a hotbed for baseball talent -- and in his four big league seasons, Aviles has cracked 100 games played twice.
So this Spring Training, while the actual underdog, Jose Iglesias, gets a lot of the attention at shortstop, Aviles is sticking with the mindset he's always used, even if it applies a little differently.
"Every single day I come to the field, [I have something to prove]," Aviles said. "Not just this year, but my entire career. I really don't need somebody to rah-rah, yell at me to get me going. I'm inside getting myself going."
To Aviles, the playing time means manager Bobby Valentine wants a long look at him with his own eyes.
"I know Bobby hasn't really seen me play," Aviles said. "You know, other than reading reports, I'm pretty sure that's where he gets most of his knowledge of how I play and what tools I bring to the table. But, in all honesty, I don't even read too much into it."
Valentine does not disagree.
"Real small sample, defensively," Valentine said. "He looks OK. Offensively, he looks very aggressive, as advertised, and can hit the ball to all parts of the field with authority."
There are other facets of this spring that Aviles said he's not reading into, like whether he's in the lineup every day.
And there's the hype around the competition with Iglesias -- a competition that's actually taken on quite a peculiarity.
The Red Sox have repeatedly dampened down the idea that the 22-year-old Iglesias has a serious shot at winning the job. It might be a competition, and will continued to be viewed as such, but it's always been far from a coin flip.
Take team president and CEO Larry Lucchino's comments on WEEI on Tuesday morning, when asked if Iglesias could be the starter:
"I think there's a remote chance," Lucchino said. "I like him a lot, it's fun to watch him play, it's fun to see the growth and development both physically and developmentally from the last year or two, and it'll be fun to watch him for the next couple of years. But Mike Aviles is playing extremely well. He had a couple of hits [Monday], and he can be a key component of this team this year. But Iglesias has a great future."
Aviles said he has not had a talk with team brass about his situation this spring. To him, the circumstances are all self-evident: Iglesias is the future and has the glove, while Aviles is older and has the bat.
Competitions sometimes can keep players from talking to each other, at least about the game. Phil Hughes, the Yankees pitcher, said last weekend he's not chatting up Freddy Garcia about on-field matters as the two battle for a rotation job.
But things are a little different for Aviles and Iglesias, closer to a mentor-pupil role, at least at the plate. What Iglesias does in the field can't really be taught, but they exchange ideas both ways.
"I know I can swing the bat a little bit, I know that's been [Iglesias'] flaw, I guess is what we would call it," Aviles said.
Neither of the shortstops has committed an error yet this spring. Iglesias has fewer than half the at-bats that Aviles has, but both are hitting over .300.
When games resume Thursday after Wednesday's day off, there will be a lot in Aviles' favor. Yet, if he ends up the Opening Day shortstop, he'll take the field as though everything's worked against him.
"I come to the park, like I said, with a chip on my shoulder, trying to prove I can play," he said. "That's really all that matters. If at the end for the day, the team feels better with Jose, then they do. If not, then so be it."