Yankees Prospect Profile: Abiatal Avelino

Kevork Djansezian

Avelino is far away from the majors, but could he be a future answer to the Yankees's problems at shortstop?

Background:

You're probably older than Abiatal Avelino, who was born on February 14, 1995, just four months before Derek Jeter's MLB debut (and the exact same day as fellow Yankees prospect Ian Clarkin). Hailing from the baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, Avelino signed with the Yankees for just $300,000 in 2012, and he spent that summer at home in the Dominican Summer League. Although he was just 17, the righthanded hitter made an immediate impression by batting .302/.398/.374 with 11 doubles and 20 steals in 57 games. He was caught on the bases just twice, demonstrating some notable baserunning abilities.

In the field, Baseball America noted that "He’s an instinctive fielder who turns double plays well, has a good internal clock and a plus arm with solid-average speed." Such acclaim was enough to negate too much concern about his .934 fielding percentage; almost all players make their share of errors while young. The scouting reports are more reliable than fielding percentage here, especially in the low minors, so Avelino established a nice reputation as a strong defensive player with agility on the bases.

2013 Results:

Staten Island (SS-A): 17 G, 76 PA, .243/.303/.271, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 SB, 0 CS, 6 K, .280 wOBA, 79 wRC+
Gulf Coast (Rk): 34 G, 148 PA, .336/.422/.469, 7 2B, 5 3B, 0 HR, 26 SB, 4 CS, 11 K

Avelino began the season in the Rookie League with one of the Yankees' two Gulf Coast League teams. He switched to the other Gulf Coast League team during the seas, but for simplification, I just used his combined numbers from the Rookie League. In mid-August, he earned a call-up to short-season Staten Island, where his season ended with 17 games and his first taste of baseball in the north. Avelino continued to show off his speed on the bases, stealing 28 out of 32 on the season, a very nice 87.5% success rate. He also further developed his bat in Rookie Ball, as his slugging percentage jumped from .374 in 2012 to .479 in 2013 until slightly superior pitching in the New York-Penn League stymied him during his stint with Staten Island.

Most notably, Avelino proved damn near impossible to strike out. Incredibly, he fanned just 17 times all year in 224 plate appearances, a 7.6% strikeout percentage. For a rough comparison, only two MLB regulars had a lower K% than that. Obviously, superior pitching will slow down that K%, but his tremendous contact rate is promising anyway. Although his hitting cooled down upon his promotion to Staten Island, it's just a 17-game sample size. The Yankees need to see plenty more games above Rookie Ball before they should start getting concerned that Avelino cannot handle minor league pitching.

2014 Outlook:

Avelino was basically everything the Yankees could have hoped for in 2013, as he hit well enough in Rookie Ball to earn a promotion, albeit a brief one. At shortstop, he plays a premium position that the Yankees desperately need to fill soon. He's understandably far away from the majors and Cito Culver is a prime example of why one needs to actually be able to hit a little bit to advance through the minors.

He'll only be turning 19 on the day pitchers and catchers report though, so he has plenty of time to work out the kinks and increase his hitting potential. Avelino showed flashes of extra-base power with relatively equal platoon splits during his 34 games in Rookie Ball this year, so it certainly would not be a shock to see him play better above Rookie Ball than he did in his Staten Island cameo last year.

It's unclear where Avelino will begin 2014, as the low minors are crowded with young shortstops of some note. 2013 draftee Tyler Wade also played well in the Rookie League last year while another 2013 draftee, John Murphy, was a complete disaster at the plate in 37 games with Staten Island. Something has to give and all three players are unlikely to be on Staten Island at the same time. Therefore, Avelino could end up anywhere, really, be it full-season Low-A Charleston, Staten Island, or maybe even the Rookie League again. My random guess is Charleston, but the bottom line is of course that no matter where he plays, if he makes a positive impression, he'll be promoted anyway. Keep an eye on this wonderfully named 19-year-old in 2014.

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