Of all the players off to good starts in the O’s minors, perhaps the one creating the most buzz is Xavier Avery.
Some in the organization feel he has a real chance to be a future Major League leadoff hitter and right now Avery is doing nothing to hurt that projection.
He is one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, but the 20-year-old outfielder is batting .375-0-9 with a .898 OPS and his name peppers the list of league leaders.
Avery hit .262 last season at Delmarva, his first year in full-season ball. Batting at the top of the Frederick lineup, he is setting the table for the middle of the order.
The Keys are 11-6 and in first place and have scored a league-leading 114 runs.
“I am a smarter player all around now,” the 5-11, lefty-hitting Avery said. “At the plate, my approach has gotten a lot better since last year. I see pitches better and I can pick up break on certain pitches and lay off changeups that are in the dirt. My hands are working well and that’s a key why I am doing better this year.
“I feel a whole lot more patient at the plate this year. I knew what I had to do to get better after last year. (Hitting coach) Denny Walling told me what I needed to do to be more consistent. I’m learning to work counts and the whole package of being a leadoff hitter.”
Last April, Avery hit .185 with no walks in 65 at bats. With the Keys, he has seven walks already and an OBP of .444. His OBP was .306 with Delmarva.
Keys fans are getting to watch this youngster blossom before their eyes and standout even vs. older players.
“Ever since I was little, I always played with older guys in football and baseball. I’m kind of use to it. I used to hang out with my older brother and older kids all the time.”
Avery, who is from Fulton, Georgia, was the O’s second-round pick in 2008. He makes his winter home just outside of Atlanta and also credits C.J. Stewart, his off-season batting coach, with helping him.
Jason Heyward and Andruw Jones have also worked with Stewart in the winter.
“I try to take knowledge from a lot of people to help myself get better,” Avery said.
“At the start (of the season), I wanted to hit .300 and steal 70 bags. Little stuff like that. Be a good leadoff hitter for my team and learn as much as I can from the game.”
Despite going hitless Sunday, Avery is batting .400 (14 for 35) over his last seven games with three doubles, seven runs and 6 RBI.
In a phone interview Sunday, Avery sounded confident but certainly not cocky.
“You took the words out of my mouth. I am very confident, but I would hate it if someone took that as cocky. Being confident helps me in every aspect of my game.”
He’s pretty savvy, too. He is not getting carried away with his early-season success and realizes pitchers will adjust how they pitch him if he keeps hitting this well.
“My radar is up for that (pitcher adjustments),” he said.
Avery said no one in the organization has mentioned a possible move to Double-A Bowie at some point this year and, at just 20, that may not happen. That doesn’t keep him from pushing for it.
“It’s in the back of my head to move up. But just not to get to Bowie, to the big leagues.”
Here is where Avery ranks currently among Carolina League leaders:
OBP: .444, 2nd
Steals: 5, tie for 3rd
Average: .375, 4th
Runs: 15, 4th
Hits: 24, 5th
Avery, who has played left and center field for Frederick, is batting .364 vs. left-handers and .381 vs. right-handed pitching.
When he bats in the 7th inning or later, he is 8 for 18 with eight runs scored.