BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 13: Xavier Avery #13 of the Baltimore Orioles takes a swing in his first major league game during a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 13, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect Xavier Avery made his major league debut Sunday. Does he have a future as a regular at Camden Yards? Let's take a look.
Avery was drafted by the Orioles in the second round in 2008, out of high school in Ellenwood, Georgia. An excellent football player in high school, he had a gridiron scholarship waiting for him at the University of Georgia, but choose professional baseball instead with its $900,000 bonus. He performed adequately in rookie ball (.280/.333/.337 with 13 steals), then moved directly to Delmarva in the Low-A South Atlantic League for 2009, hitting .262/.306/.340 with 30 steals, but a poor 27/111 BB/K in 473 at-bats.
Moved him to High-A Frederick to open 2010, he hit .280/.349/.389 with 28 steals in 109 games, but struggled after moving up to Double-A Bowie in August, hitting .234/.288/.374 in 27 games. He returned to Bowie for 2011 and hit .259/.324/.343 with 36 steals, 49 walks, and 154 strikeouts in 557 at-bats. He was hitting .273/.373/.469 in 33 games for Triple-A Norfolk before his major league promotion this year, with 20 walks and 29 strikeouts in 153 at-bats.
Avery is a 6-0, 190 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born January 1st, 1990. He's very fast and a significant threat on the bases, making big strides with his stealing technique over the last year. He's stolen eight bases without getting caught this season. Not considered a power hitter, his career high in home runs was just seven (set in 2010) but he's shown considerably more pop this spring and already had five bombs (along with six doubles and two triples) for Norfolk. His arm is below average and he's not suited for regular use in right field, but his range works well in center field.
The biggest difference for Avery this spring has been greatly improved plate discipline: his career high in walks was 49 but he'd already drawn 20 for Norfolk in just 33 games, with a reduced strikeout rate compared to past seasons. He's been especially hot lately, hitting .385/.429/.718 in the last 10 games before his promotion. Scouts haven't complained about his swing and he has wiry strength, but an immature, impatient hitting approach held him back in the past. He's often struggled against left-handed pitching.
Avery looked like a future reserve outfielder pre-season, but if he brings his newfound patience and power to the majors, he can get beyond that role. Given the sample sizes involved, it remains to be seen if Avery's improvement this year can be maintained, but the tools for success have always been here.