Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Prospect Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a prospect’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the prospect’s future.
First base. The two words are not exactly kind words when thinking of any recent Cleveland Indians teams.
For a number of years, first base has been a problem for the Indians. It always seems as if a few stopgap options are explored without the team ever really securing a true long-term fix.
Unfortunately for the Indians, first base remains a problem within the team’s farm system. There are few promising prospects, and it’s difficult to really project any of them as a possible long-term solution.
However, of all the first baseman in the system, perhaps none are more promising than right-handed slugger Jesus Aguilar. Signed by the Indians in November 2007 out of Venezuela, Aguilar just completed his fifth season within the Indians system.
Six foot three inches tall. Two hundred and forty one pounds. The measurables sure seem to suggest that he has the body of a Major League first baseman.
Because of his size, power and position he plays, Aguilar is currently one of the most popular prospects in the entire system. Many fans believe he could be the long-term answer at first base, but it’s unfortunately not that easy.
Despite all the positives, Aguilar is not without his flaws. He’s had quite the rise since making his debut in 2008, but there is still no guarantee that he possesses all the tools needed to be a Major League regular. With that said, let’s take a look at the dramatic ride that has been Aguilar’s minor league career.
Aguilar made his debut in 2008 with the DSL Indians in the Dominican Summer League. He was just 18 years old at the time and to be honest, the results were not all that pretty. In 68 games that summer, Aguilar compiled a .209/.286/.311 line with four home runs, 45 RBI, 23 walks and 29 strikeouts. Regardless, some numbers did stand out, in particular the RBI total, and because of his age, his struggles were forgivable.
The following season, Aguilar went through his second tour of duty with the DSL Indians and posted a .305/.412/.460 line with five home runs, 46 RBI, 31 walks and 24 strikeouts. The season was just more evidence of what a difference a year can make. Aguilar seemed much more comfortable as a hitter, and the results certainly indicated that.
By all accounts, Aguilar was ready for the next step, so he then spent the next season with the AZL Indians and at Single-A Mahoning Valley where he posted a .251/.297/.421 line with nine home runs, 39 RBI, 16 walks and 61 strikeouts in 61 games between the two affiliates.
In all honesty, not too much stood out from the season. There was certainly a level of intrigue because of his power potential, but an average of one strikeout per game was not getting anyone overly excited either. But then came the 2011 season.
For context, consider this: Prior to the 2011 season, IPI ranked Aguilar as the organization’s No. 83 prospect. As for after the season: No. 14. Yep, it was that kind of year.
Aguilar started the season at Single-A Lake County, and quite frankly, he seemed to be a different player. In 95 games and 349 at-bats with the Captains, Aguilar compiled a .292/.370/.544 line with 19 home runs, 69 RBI, 35 walks and 98 strikeouts. Plate discipline was clearly still an issue, but it seemed as if Aguilar had finally really started to tap into his power potential.
He was then promoted to High-A Kinston and spent 31 games there where he hit .257/.323/.389 with four home runs, 13 RBI, 11 walks and 28 strikeouts. The year was definitely the hulking first baseman’s breakout season and things only got better during winter ball where Aguilar hit .305/.405/.539 with six home runs and 23 RBI in 38 games between the Arizona Fall League and the Venezuelan Winter League.
The Jesus Aguilar hype train had officially arrived.
Aguilar just recently completed a solid 2012 campaign where he spent time between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron. Overall, in 127 games between the two affiliates, Aguilar hit .280/.372/.461 with 15 home runs, 71 RBI, 58 walks and 115 strikeouts.
The season was certainly not a bad season, but it did seem to come off as somewhat underwhelming. Because of his breakout campaign in 2011, a microscope seemed to closely follow Aguilar all season, so it was disappointing that his numbers did not top the previous season.
On the positive side of things, Aguilar’s defense at first base was reportedly top notch. He seemed improve as the season wore on, which can only bode well for his future as a potential Major Leaguer.
Not just that, but Aguilar also made the jump to Double-A and played quite well there. The promotion showed that he has continued to rise through the system and also seemed to affirm that management does have faith in him as a legit Major League prospect moving forward.
Aguilar is currently not a member of the Indians 40-man roster, so unless he is rostered, he is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft in December. However, the chances of that happening seem quite unlikely. With only 20 regular season games played at the Double-A level, it would be hard to believe that a Major League club could expect Aguilar to come in and contribute right away.
The likely scenario is that Aguilar begins the 2013 season as a member of the Aeros once again, and if he performs well, he could find himself with Triple-A Columbus in June or July.
However, while Aguilar certainly projects as a future member of the Columbus Clippers, it’s more difficult to say with certainty that he will one day be a member of the Cleveland Indians. Because he is right-handed, has power and plays first base, he would appear to be the perfect answer to the Tribe’s woes, but it’s just not that simple.
Plate discipline continues to be a problem for him, and while that can be lived with if he hits for power, the number of home runs that Aguilar hit in 2012 just were not enough. Granted, Carolina’s spacious outfield could have factored into that, but the total was somewhat discouraging nonetheless.
Aguilar likely will eventually get his shot in Cleveland one day, but it’s just hard to know if he’ll stick. That answer will probably be much easier to answer after the 2013 season, which will be a critical year for Aguilar and his career.
If there is a best-case scenario, Aguilar may profile as a Mark Trumbo type: a player who hits with some nice power but also strikes out at an alarming rate. But again, that should be considered a best-case scenario.
Even still, he remains one of the most intriguing prospects to watch in the entire system, and he will no doubt be on the radar of a slew of Tribe fans this upcoming season. Hopefully, he just performs well enough to stay on everyone’s radar after the season.
Previous Then & Now profiles:
- Nov. 15, 2012: Cord Phelps
- Nov. 6, 2012: Tim Fedroff
- Nov. 2, 2012: T.J. McFarland
- Oct. 27, 2012: Chen-Hsiu Chen
- Oct. 16, 2012: Danny Salazar
- Oct. 10, 2012: Paolo Espino
- Oct. 5, 2012: Jared Goedert
- Sept. 24, 2012: Hector Rondon
- Sept. 17, 2012: Nick Weglarz