Back in Double-A, Xavier Avery working to earn another shot with Orioles

The Baltimore Sun

Xavier Avery is not satisfied.

Since being taken in the second round by the Orioles in 2008, the 23-year-old outfielder has risen through the minor league system and consistently found himself listed among the organization's best prospects. Last season, he played 32 games in three stints with the big league club and spent the rest of the year with Triple-A Norfolk.

But after just a brief look this spring, Avery finds himself at Double-A Bowie, a victim of improved outfield depth in the organization, as he battles for another shot to impress the Orioles.

"This is not the plan, to go back down to Double-A from Triple-A, big leagues to Double-A," Avery said in a recent interview. "At the same time, I can still put in work. I'm here to keep working, keep getting better, and I feel like I still have a shot."

Last season, it seemed, would be Avery's breakthrough. He was promoted to the Orioles in May in an attempt to add speed and outfield depth. But he struggled in his first major league action, batting just .223 in 32 games during three sporadic stints with the Orioles.

This spring, Avery was invited to major league spring training, but he was sent down to the minor league camp less than two weeks into March.

"I came in, and honestly I wanted to make the team," said Avery, who was ranked the Orioles' No. 3 prospect by Baseball America heading into 2011 (he was ranked seventh entering this season). "But you know, from the looks of it, I wasn't in the plan to make the team. I only got 11 at-bats in 12 games."

Part of the reason for Avery's quick reassignment was the Orioles' sudden surplus of outfielders.

With L.J. Hoes, Lew Ford and newcomers Jason Pridie and Trayvon Robinson on the roster at Triple-A Norfolk, Avery has started the season at Bowie, where he spent the entire 2011 season.

Entering Friday, Avery was batting .278 with a .376 on-base percentage and 23 runs scored, which tied for the Eastern League lead.

His problem has been consistency. He has the second-most strikeouts in the league (34) and recently went through a 10-game stretch where he reached base as many times as he struck out (17).

But the progress is there, even if it isn't always showing in the box scores.

"I think defensively in the outfield his routes are better, going into gaps, the fly balls, his decision-making," Baysox manager Gary Kendall said. "He's stepped up just about every part of his game from what I saw in 2011."

It's easy to see why expectations were high for Avery coming out of high school. If Avery, at 6 feet, 190 pounds, looks like he could play running back, it's because he did. The Atlanta native was offered a football scholarship by Georgia coming out of high school, but he spurned the Bulldogs for baseball.

"I've been asked that question a lot," Avery said of his decision to choose baseball over football. "I can always go back to football, so I wanted to explore this option first."

Kendall believes Avery can make it back to the big leagues in baseball.

"Oh, he's a big league outfielder. He's certainly got major league potential," Kendall said. "I think he has a good chance to be a solid major league outfielder."

For now, Avery is putting in the grunt work to fix the holes in his game, even if he thinks he should be further along than Double-A.

"I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm happy every day," he said, "Being down here, all I can do is control what I can control, and that's getting better. All I can do is try to dominate."

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