CLEVELAND: When was the last time the Indians developed a homegrown power hitter?
You would have to page through the Tribe’s annals to the 1990s to find that answer, when sluggers Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome came up through the farm system about the same time.
Since those Indians’ glory days however, none of the organization’s promising minor-league sluggers have panned out.
But they might have one now.
His name is Jesus Aguilar.
Aguilar, a hulking 23-year-old first baseman, clubbed 28 doubles and 16 home runs for the Aeros last season en route to becoming the franchise’s single-season RBI record holder with 105.
He has always boasted such natural power — with a 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame to support it. But it wasn’t until time spent this winter in his native Venezuela that he became a more complete hitter, having found the perfect mentor.
Under the everyday tutelage of 17-year major-league veteran Bobby Abreu, a teammate on a Caracas team in the Venezuelan Winter League, Aguilar blossomed.
“[Abreu] was a superstar here, he was a very good hitter,” said Aguilar, who was recently in Cleveland to take part in the Indians 20th Annual Winter Development Program. “So I asked how he was able to do all that, and the big thing he told me was, ‘You have to have a good routine and stay with your routine. Good day, bad day, no matter. Stay with your routine.’ ”
Aguilar conceded that he had heard that phrase many times since he signed as a minor-league free agent with the Indians and began his professional career as an 18-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2008. What he didn’t fully comprehend until recently, however, was exactly what it meant.
“[Abreu] explained to me everything he did,” Aguilar said. “How he worked out before the game, what he did in practice, how you control your situation by going to the gym at a certain time, always coming to the field at the same time before the game. That helped me a lot have a very good winter ball season.”
“Very good” might even be an understatement. With the added guidance from a handful of native brothers he trusted, Aguilar went on to hit .327 (which is seventh in the league) with 18 homers (second) and 50 RBI (fourth) in just 58 games while batting cleanup.
“I learned so much from those guys,” Aguilar said, also referring to shortstop Alex Gonzalez and pitcher Ugueth Urbina. “Now, I’m going to try to take everything I learned from them and apply it this year.”
Aguilar will start the season at Triple-A Columbus, serving as the Clippers first baseman. But with a solid start, it wouldn’t surprise anyone in the Indians organization if he were to find his way to the majors this season.
“Jesus has raw power,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “The thing that stands out about him is the professionalism of his at bats. A year and a half ago if you went to watch Jesus play, you saw a lot of power potential, a good swing and a lot of effort and intensity. Now, you walk in and see a very professional at bat. This guy belongs in another stadium, almost. The way he sees pitches, the way he takes pitches, the way he thinks situationally, as opposed to just thinking how far am I going to hit this ball?”
Handling himself physically on the baseball field and maintaining a routine is one part of Aguilar’s development. The other is staying calm and controlling his emotions.
“Jesus is a very driven, very competitive individual who wants to put the world on his back and carry it,” Atkins said. “We want that also, but sometimes that can turn into trying to do too much. Now, he’s learning to gauge back. … He’ll also [learn to continue to control his emotions] the more he’s around veteran players and gets into the major league environment. Going to major league spring training [this month] is going to be huge with that.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.