Name: Phil Avlas
Last season was not Phil Avlas' favorite in pro ball. He started the year in Double-A Tennessee, only to find himself spitting time with two other catching prospects. The inconsistency hurt him, and then an injury hurt him even more. After missing more than a month Avlas was ready to come off the disabled list, but by that time the Diamondbacks wanted to take a look at Miguel Montero in Double-A. Avlas was demoted back to Lancaster, and took his frustrations out on California League pitching.
He hit .367 with five homers and 24 RBI in 37 games with the JetHawks, while Montero stumbled in Double-A. He'll have to battle with the younger Montero next season for a spot in Double-A, but this is not a catcher whose time has past.
"He's so good defensively, and so good at handling pitchers, that even if he couldn't hit at all he'd be a commodity," FutureBacks' David Merchant says, "but he can hit, and has gotten stronger, so he doesn't get tied up on inside fastballs as often. Montero may be the hot prospect right now, but Avlas has value."
Batting and Power: Avlas has never been a big power producer, and when he's tried to, it's hurt his strikeout numbers. He's a gap hitter who, when he's right, will put the bat on the ball and hit for average. He's shown problems in his first chance at moving up, often taking half a season or so to adjust. That bodes well for a return trip to Double-A next season, where he hit only .239 in 41 games.
He's looking to add muscle in the offseason, not necessarily to hit the ball out of the park, but to avoid getting jammed on good fastballs inside, something that had started happening to him in 2004 at Hi-A. If he can hit .260 in the big leagues, he could very easily become a Brad Ausmus type catcher, so good with the glove and the head that anything he does with the bat becomes a bonus.
Baserunning and Speed: He's a catcher, which means two things, he doesn't run often, and when he does he's almost always picking on a pitcher who isn't paying attention and making it, or getting thrown out when the batter couldn't keep up his end of the 'hit and run' bargain. On the bases he's smart, but far from conservative, taking advantage of lazy outfielders who assume he won't take the extra base because he is a catcher.
Defense: Is the name of the game. Though his arm is just barely above average, he's very accurate, and gets rid of the ball quickly, allowing him to cut down more than his share of runners. His real talent though lies in handling a pitching staff and calling games, something he's drawn praise for since he came in the league. His Manager at Hi-A last year was a former catcher, Bill Plummer, and Plummer called him one of his favorite players.
"He's such a luxury for a coach," a scout said, "because he just knows what to do in every situation. You watch games and he almost never looks into the dugout for a sign, because he knows what the manager wants the infield to do, what pitch he wants called, where he wants it. The kid's s true student of the game."
Prediction: Avlas will have to prove he can hit at a high level before he will be considered an elite catching prospect, but he very well could make the show as a defensive minded backup quickly. If the Diamondbacks find themselves in a position where they needed a catcher right away, it seems likely Avlas would get the call ahead of Montero, because even if he doesn't necessarily give you a lot with the bat, he will hold and handle his own behind the plate.
"I loved working with him," a pitcher said after the 2005 Arizona Fall League, where Avlas was a mid season replacement for Montero, "because even in the bullpen, when Phil wasn't even in the game, he was working with you, talking about spotting pitches, picking things up in your delivery, just a really smart player, a guy who makes it easy to pitch."
ETA: Injuries are probably Avlas' best bet of making the show, but a solid year in Double-A couldn't hurt. Currently the Diamondbacks pecking order at catcher goes Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill, Miguel Montero and then Avlas, but both Montero and Avlas could move ahead of Hill this season if the switch hitting former Dodger doesn't show vast improvement soon. Expect Avlas to bounce back and forth in an injury situation in '07.
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