Tampa, FL- The sound of Abiatal Avelino celebrating his winning hand at ping-pong in the Tampa Yankees clubhouse was audible down the hall, as soon as the doors opened.
He was having a time; mocking his teammates, increasingly excited by every hit he got across the table. A few minutes later, as he began to speak about his career in baseball, Avelino exhibited a more measured, thoughtful tone. He went from acting like a highly-charged kid competing on the blacktop at a schoolyard game, to a complete professional, thoughtful and aware.
It’s this mix of enthusiasm and openness, tempered by a drive to learn and grow that’s got to be impressing the Yankees, just as the showcase of all his talents this year has impressed his manager.
“He’s a special kid,” said Tampa manager Patrick Osborn. “He works his butt off. He wants to learn.”
That teachable quality is evident in his commitment to watching what he’s doing right and wrong-post-game. Looking at video has been integral to Avelino’s development according to the twenty-one-year-old.
“I try to figure out where I messed up at the plate,” stated Avelino. “I make sure my swings are staying the same. And I’m really keying in on the location of each pitch, not swinging at each pitch, and if I can hit that pitch hard.”*
Through 76 games this season with Tampa, he’s hitting .273/.328/.396. 14 of his 80 team-leading hits have been doubles, also good for first on the team. He’s also worked 23 walks, starting off hot in May with ten.
He hit quite well in 2015, finishing the season with 102 hits for Tampa in 103 games. Room for improvement may not seem entirely obvious, but there was an early season issue that he’s corrected. Part of that process was making a small adjustment to the placement of his hands on the bat. That tweak may not seem huge to the eye, but it’s made a difference.
“It was minor, but it’s been the key lately,” said Avelino.
Osborn said the lowering of his hands allowed for less movement, essentially simplifying his hitting approach. He echoes Avelino’s thought that the minor change has had an impact.
“The less movement the better. I think he’s found something that he likes. He’s able to repeat consistently. He’s been on a roll,” Osborn said.
Too much movement impeded his ability to see the ball better and determine whether he was getting a good pitch to hit. Hitters are constantly balancing an approach that’s both aggressive and patient. Avelino has been putting himself in a more advantageous position in each at-bat by finding that balance and getting a good eye on the ball.
“Calming the movements down has allowed him to see the ball better. He has better judgment in terms of what type of swing he wants to put on the ball,” Osborn said.
In reflecting on his recent success, as well as his overall growth defensively and at the plate, Avelino’s answer is clear-cut.
“Being consistent every day is a big part of it,” he said.
But wait. Amid all this strong development on the field, there’s something else on Avelino’s agenda: learning English. Osborn recalls that even before this season, his drive to improve extended to learning the language. His manager views it as another example of Avelino’s determination.
“I used to see him over in the complex in our computer room, on the computer doing Rosetta Stone for English. He speaks and understands ok. But now with my wife being from Brazil, I’m introducing him to Portuguese. So he’s been using some,” Osborn said with a laugh. “He’s not shy, he’s very comfortable. He’s like a sponge. He just wants to learn.”
*Thank you to Tampa catcher Wes Wilson who acted as translator for this interview.