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Keep your eye on Xavier Avery

Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun wrote a nice profile of Orioles' prospect Xavier Avery yesterday. I recommend you read the entire thing as it gives a thorough background of the 21 year old player, but I'd like to touch on a few things he wrote.

[I]f there is one trait about Avery that makes team officials believe that he can morph from a raw and untested minor leaguer into a future regular in the Orioles' lineup, it's his unwavering desire to succeed in a sport that he didn't start taking seriously until about five years ago.

I don't know whether to be encouraged or frustrated by this quote. On one hand, it's true that Avery focused more on football growing up (he was good enough at it to be offered a scholarship for it from the University of Georgia), and who knows if he'd be more advanced baseball-wise if he had only played baseball. On the other, it seems kind of like a convenient excuse when people don't live up to their potential (see Cabrera, Daniel).

That probably makes me sound like I'm down on Avery, but I'm not. It's obviously too soon to know what will happen with him, and by all accounts he is making strides in the minors. Zrebiec gives a few examples of just the kind of hard work and desire Avery exhibits, including this tidbit:

At a base-running clinic last week for the Orioles minor leaguers, Avery stepped up and posed a question to current Orioles second baseman and leadoff hitter Brian Roberts about whether he should look in at the catcher during a steal attempt in certain situations.

It makes sense that Avery, who is very fast and who aspires to be a base stealer, would pick the brain of someone who has had as much major league success as Roberts. It's not extraordinary that he'd ask him a question, but it gives me a warm vibe all the same. And Avery could use the help. Despite his speed he has a minor league stolen base success rate of 75%, which is the lowest rate you can have that makes it worth stealing bases at all. At A+ Frederick in 2010 Avery stole 28 bases in 109 games but was thrown out 14 times for just a 67% success rate.

Last April, James F posited that Xavier Avery could be on the verge of breaking out. In the article, James says:

The minor league season is very young.  But the signs from Avery are very encouraging.  As a toolsy and raw outfield prospect who is among the youngest players in A+, a left handed batter with a reverse platoon split and improving plate discipline, Avery is in a position to fly up the prospect rankings if he can build on the success of his first week of 2010.

Did he build on the success? As the fourth youngest player in A+ in 2010, Avery hit better than he had at any other stop in the minors, putting up a hitting line of .280/.349/.389 before being promoted to AA Bowie. He also posted a walk rate of 8.4%, a huge jump from the 5.3% he had his first two years, and cut his strikeout rate by almost 4% as well. His numbers dropped with the Baysox, but it was only twenty-seven games to end the year.

Avery will return to Bowie in 2011, again as one of the youngest players in the league. If he can keep his OBP up, learn to use his speed more effectively on the base paths, and continue to improve defensively, he could be a bright part of the Orioles' future.