“In just about any other organization, Erick Aybar's name would come along with a lot more hype. With the Angels he takes a backseat to Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick, who might be baseball's two best middle-infield prospects.”
That was Aaron Gleeman’s opening statement in his top 50 prospect countdown in 2006. And he was right. A flashy shortstop with a cannon for a right arm, tremendous speed and a bat that made consistent contact. He just so happened to be behind a future batting champion and a prospect that was going to win multiple MVP awards. Fast forward seven years. Kendrick has yet to win a single batting title, but has been a consistent contributor (And GIDP specialist) for the Angels. Brandon Wood on the other hand is probably asking someone right now if they would like fries with their order at a McDonald’s in his hometown of Scottsdale, AZ. This baseball, it’s funny, no? Good news for Wood though, he is eligible to participate in the 2013 WBC for Australia.
Aybar spent his minor league career in an organization that was decidedly stacked with high upside blue chip prospects. It seemed only natural that Aybar would get lost in the shuffle when, along with Wood and Kendrick, he was playing with players like Jered Weaver, Kendrys Morales and Nick Adenhart, just to name a few. But the vertically challenged shortstop did not go unnoticed ranking 21st in 2002, eighth in 2003 and third from 2004 through 2006 in Baseball America’s top Angels prospect rankings and taking home top defensive infielder honors from 2004 to 2006. A throwback shortstop, Erick wasn’t going to hit for a ton of power, but epitomized the small ball nature that Mike Scioscia’s Angels embodied at that time. An excellent bunter who sprayed the ball to all fields, he also possessed impressive speed, stealing 51 bases in 2004 and then 49 in 2005 (His base stealing decisions were a matter of concern though. He got caught stealing 36 times in ’04 and 23 times in ’05). A maniac ball specialist who would be playing for a maniac ball manager, a marriage made in baseball heaven.
After compiling a minor league slash line of .312/.357/.453 through most of 2006, Aybar got called up, and would appear in 34 games at the end of that season. In 2007, Aybar appeared in 79 games for the Halos playing all over the diamond, finding any way to get the young player into the lineup. That offseason, the Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland trade ensured, that in 2008, the “future” Angels shortstop was going to be the “right now” shortstop. In his first full season, Aybar put up a .277/.314/.384 slash line in 98 games showing continued improvement and looked like he could be heading for a breakout campaign.
And in 2009, that’s exactly what he did putting up a career best slash line of .312/.353/.423, playing an integral role on an Angels team that would reach the ALCS that season. Primed to become a member of the “Elite Major League Shortstop” club, expectations couldn’t have been higher heading into 2010. But they were expectations he would not live up to. He scuffled in 2010 as he was thrust into his new role as leadoff hitter. His 2011 showed improvement, and he was finally recognized for his defense winning his first gold glove, but he was still coming up short of what fans had come to expect. Last season fans saw an Erick Aybar that finished the season playing closer to the level of play that fans want to see from their pint size shortstop posting a .290/.324/.416 slash line, playing steady defense and consistently being a pest to one Albert Pujols. No longer burdened with having to shoulder the leadoff role now that super-duper awesome baseball stud Mike Trout is here to stay, Erick can sit back and do what he does best. Play solid defense, post an above average SO% (Both by Major League standards and amongst shortstops) and continue to petition the state of California to give his tobacco filled cheek its own zip code.
What to expect in 2013
I could sit back and tell you that Aybar is going to come out this year and establish himself as an elite shortstop. That offensively, 2013 will be 2009 redux. But if I did that, then I would be a liar, and redux looks too much like Red Sox, and no one wants to accidentally read a word and think Boston. ZiPS projects that Aybar in 2013 will put up a .276/.316/.393 slash line, which looks strikingly similar to his career .278/.320/.386 line, which means one of two things, either A.) Dan Szymborski got lazy or B.) We have seen the best that are diminutive shortstop has to offer with his 2009 season and from here on out this is what we should expect on a consistent basis. I’m going with option “B.” I think ZiPS is selling Aybar a little low in the slugging department (He has had a SLG% over .400 three of the last four years), but when notoriously optimistic Bill James projects a similar slash line, it’s better to not fight it.
With all of that being said, I am still far too optimistic for my own good. I don’t think that Aybar will ever approach his 2009 numbers again, but I do think that Aybar is better than his career numbers. *Checks med levels, all things normal* Now, you might be asking yourself, “Why, Mike, are you going to disagree with both ZiPS and Bill James?” First off, don’t talk to the computer screen, it’s weird and I can’t hear you when you do that. Second, his second half slash line of .326/.361/.484 is why. Largely on the back of a .341/.368/.538 and .354/.379/.455 line in August and September respectively, Aybar turned up the heat when the Angels needed him most. He is starting to understand his importance to the club which is maybe the most important progression in his career to this point.
In case of emergency, oh snap, we don’t have a fire extinguisher.
And here’s where it gets dicey. Most every position for the Angels this year has a backup that can come in and fill that position adequately. At shortstop, that adequate replacement is now in Milwaukee. Sure, we have Andrew Romine, but fans already are having a hard time stomaching the idea of Peter Bourjos getting 500+ at bats, if Scioscia were to replace Aybar with someone who is literally Reggie Willits 2.0, it’s likely that the fans would rise up and riot. This team will be good with Aybar or it will be bad with Aybar. They will win despite him or in spite of him. This team does not have a legitimate fallback option should Aybar be so bad that he needs to be forcibly removed from the lineup for his own safety.
One of the knocks against Aybar since he became an everyday Major Leaguer is that he lacks on base abilities. And those who knock him for lacking said on base abilities are right. There is no way to sugar coat the fact that Erick Aybar has never seen a pitch that he didn’t like, and with that in mind, I submit to you, Exhibit A. However, what that does not mean, is that Erick Aybar strikeouts a lot. Since becoming a full time player in 2008, Aybar has had SO% of 12.0,9.7,13.5,11.2 and 11. Each of which has not only been above average as a major leaguer, but above average where just shortstops are concerned. I still believe that Alberto Callaspo is the Angels best option to hit second in the order come time for the regular season to start, but he does have some serious competition with Aybar.
Erick Aybar is another up the middle player that fans should really back off of on the offensive side of the ball. We can’t all have Cal Ripken Jr. types penciled in as number six defensively on our team’s scorecard. If Brandon Wood hadn’t been so unbelievably terrible at hitting, well, anything that was thrown in the general direction of the plate, then we could. But he was bad, and is the reason that we can’t have nice things. Erick Aybar on the other hand has been a consistent contributor for Mike Scioscia and the Angels throughout his big league career. In 2013, we really shouldn’t expect anything different -- even if I am overly optimistic about him -- and anything more than that should be taken as a bonus.