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Aviles handling a tough hop

He’s fielded well at shortstop so far

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 12, 2012
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SARASOTA, Fla. - When the Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in late January, infield instructor Jerry Royster started reviewing the career of Mike Aviles to see what he had to work with.

He didn’t like what he found. Aviles had started only eight games at shortstop in 2011, playing a total of 91 innings. The last time Aviles had played the position regularly was in 2008, his rookie season with the Royals.

“Trust me, this winter when I was sitting back home I thought I had my hands full trying to get a big league shortstop ready who hasn’t played there in three years,’’ Royster said. “The one thing we knew coming in was that he was going to have to do a lot of work.’’

A utility infielder for much of his 16-year career, Royster has experienced how difficult it can be to commit to one position and play it at a high level after moving around the diamond. But Aviles has surprised him.

A shortstop in high school, college, and the minors, Aviles worked out at the position regularly before games over the last three years. That has made this spring a relatively smooth one.

“For us infield instructors, that’s almost as good as playing,’’ Royster said. “That pregame work was important.’’

Aviles, who turns 31 Tuesday, isn’t worried about being able to handle the most important position on the infield.

“Mentally, I always prepare to play every game no matter what my role has been,’’ he said Sunday before the Red Sox beat the Orioles, 6-1. “The physical part is more the repetitions. The more reps I get, the better I’ll be, and I’m getting the repetitions.’’

Aviles has played only shortstop in drills and worked extensively with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez. He has played 34 innings there in games, the most of all the infielders.

“He’s been fine,’’ said Pedroia, who seems to break in a new shortstop every spring. “Mike can handle the job.’’

Bobby Valentine hasn’t named Aviles as his Opening Day shortstop. But that is almost certainly the plan, as the Red Sox would prefer defensively gifted 22-year-old Jose Iglesias become more established as a hitter in Triple A.

“Real small sample defensively, he looks OK,’’ Valentine said of Aviles. “Offensively he looks very aggressive as advertised and can hit the ball to all parts of the field with authority.’’

Aviles, who has a stocky build, makes up for his lack of range with a strong arm, according to Royster.

“There’s a quickness in his release, too, that will allow him to cover up some of his deficiencies as far as his range goes,’’ Royster said. “I think his range is really good. But sometimes he doesn’t get as good a jump on the ball as he should. His anticipation isn’t there, which is what I expect after not having played there a few years. It’s just a tick off. The more games he gets in here, the better off he will be.’’

The other part will be adjusting to how active Valentine wants his infielders to be.

“We have a tendency to do a lot of things and put in a lot of plays and he’s grasping everything that we’re trying to add to what he already knew,’’ Royster said. “I don’t foresee him having a lot of problems, I really don’t.

“It’s how he gets started. If he gets off to a good start defensively, he’s going to be OK. But if he has a rough time, I want to see how he’s going to recover. That’s the big thing. But, really, I think he’ll be fine.’’

Aviles said playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, even though it was only for 10 games, was helpful.

“I feel a little more advanced than I did in recent years. I do feel good,’’ he said. “Within the competition, yeah, I’m trying to earn a spot. But I have to prepare myself to play the season and I feel good about where I am.’’

Aviles knows that Iglesias eventually will become the shortstop. Iglesias has swung the bat well this spring and could be only a few months away from taking the spot.

“We talk all the time because I like him,’’ Aviles said. “I like him as a person and as a player. He has a special, special career coming. Whether it starts this year or next year, you never know.

“I try to help him as much as I can. We talk quite a bit about defense and I try and help him with his hitting. I want him to do well. In the long run, we all need to be good for us to have a good team. He’s unbelievable in the field and when you’re that good defensively you know it’s only a matter of time.’’

Aviles is prepared to slide into whatever role is required, whether it’s starter now or reserve later on.

“I take things day by day,’’ he said. “I don’t look down the road. That’s one of the things I’ve learned. As you get older, you learn that you can’t control those things. You just have to be ready that day and handle the task at hand. Right now, I’m here to play shortstop and I’m going to give them everything I have.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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