Mahoney, Avery are Birds worthy of attention
It isn't uncommon for shortstop Manny Machado and pitcher Dylan Bundy to be the first players mentioned in discussions about the Orioles' prospects. Both are highly regarded among scouts and player-development personnel.
The club has other prospects who require attention. Two that caught my eye during this past Arizona Fall League are first baseman Joe Mahoney and outfielder Xavier Avery. Each played extensively this past fall, working hard to hone skills for an eventual promotion. They also appear to be on similar paths, having played at Double-A Bowie together last season and at Triple-A Norfolk this year.
Each of the prospects has an area of specialization: Mahoney is a power hitter, while Avery is a scoring catalyst. Both may have a role in Baltimore at some point.
The AFL has long been known as a "finishing school" for top organizational prospects. After logging numerous regular-season innings, pitchers seem to have a difficult time in league play. With the exception of pitchers coming back from injuries, additional strain on young pitching arms could potentially do more harm than good. Because it is a "pitching-thin" league, looking at Mahoney and Avery's AFL work has to be accompanied by the caveat that hitters usually do well.
Mahoney and Avery both showed potential Major League tools. While statistics are important, they both gave hints of the skills and mechanics that could carry them to the highest level.
Mahoney is tall and thin at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. When his height is considered, he's a relatively agile and athletic first baseman. He fits the prototype of the tall target with good footwork that many teams seek at that important offensive position. What makes Mahoney important to the O's is his developing power. While he has work to do offensively, there is hope Mahoney can consistently bring the long ball to his game. Not unlike other power hitters, indications are apparent that power could be the final part of his overall maturation.
Mahoney reminds me of Richie Sexson, when Sexson first arrived with the Indians. He was tall and lean -- with raw, unrefined power. Ultimately, the power developed, and so did the strikeouts. But Sexson could end a game with one swing of his bat. He was a big enough threat to sustain a career that spanned 12 Major League seasons, playing for five different teams. In each case, the club was in search of the long-ball pot of gold waiting beyond the outfield fence. Late-inning homers win games.
Mahoney's power may prove beneficial if Baltimore can afford to use him as a utility or platoon player coming off the bench. He may not be able to sustain enough daily batting average to be a lineup regular.
I did see some of Mahoney's firepower in the light Arizona air. He managed to hit four homers on his way to hitting .325 in 83 at-bats covering 20 games. His offense was a bit "hit and miss," as is often the case with big power hitters. At times, he looked very comfortable at the plate. Other times, he was fooled by more sophisticated pitchers with enough command to hit specific spots -- especially the outside corner. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter got himself out on occasion trying to pull pitches, instead of taking the pitch where it was thrown. His lack of outside plate coverage was exposed in several games I watched.
Mahoney has an eye for pitches that get too much of the plate. I think he'll be extremely dangerous against right-handed pitching.
Mahoney fields his position very well. He isn't a gangly, all arms and legs "big guy." Rather, he is athletic enough to play the entire game without requiring a defensive replacement.
Avery, only 22, will begin 2012 trying to refine his pitch selection and get on base consistently.
Like Mahoney, Avery played well this past fall in Arizona. While he hit .288 vs. fairly mediocre pitching, it was his nine stolen bases, with only one caught stealing, that raised some eyebrows. Speed is the major component of his game. If he can get on base, he can succeed. Avery has to get his share of infield leg hits, bunt hits and bases on balls to increase his base stealing and run scoring opportunities.
Avery, a left-handed hitter and fielder, has a .265 career batting average over five seasons in the Minors. Avery stole 36 bases in 2011, but was caught stealing 14 times. He also struck out 156 times, while drawing only 49 walks. Putting the bat on the ball, making contact and accepting walks are crucial for speedy leadoff hitters like Avery. At times, he has shown a propensity for swinging at too many bad pitches and increasing the strike zone for the pitcher. He gets himself out when he gets overly aggressive.
Avery doesn't have the power to be a home-run threat. He does, however, have enough pop to hit the gaps. He could be very successful if he plays a "small" game and helps his team by getting on base at the top of the order. Improving his plate discipline, recognizing pitches quickly and reducing the length of his swing are important ingredients for Avery to improve upon this season.
In addition to being a speedy, leadoff-type hitter, Avery has the ability to play very solid defense in center field. He is quick to the ball and makes good, timely reads off the crack of the bat. He showed he was capable of playing shallow and going deep for long drives with solid, step-saving routes. His arm is solid and accurate.
Mahoney and Avery appear to be specialists within the Orioles organization: Avery is the table-setter, Mahoney one who may be counted upon to clean the table. Both could be important components in Baltimore's future.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.