A couple months into the season last year at high Class-A Carolina, Edwin Rodriguez approached hulking first baseman Jesus Aguilar with an honest assessment.
“He was driving in runs, but I knew that approach wouldn’t work at the higher levels,” Rodriguez, now the Double-A Aeros manager, recalled. “His swing was kind of mechanical with way too much of a hitch.”
Although Aguilar took the constructive criticism in stride — and even agreed with his skipper — he didn’t make changes to his swing until a couple months into this season with the Aeros.
“He came into this season with pretty much the same swing,” Rodriguez said. “But about the second month of the season, he made the adjustment and he just took off. With the swing he has now, he’s able to better recognize the pitch because he doesn’t have to rush so much.
“He can go back slow and that pitch recognition improvement has opened a lot of doors. Now that he’s able to stay back longer, he has better strike zone knowledge and that has translated into him being ahead in the count more frequently.”
The ability to make wholesale changes to his batting stance and swing in the middle of the season makes the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder’s accomplishments this year all the more impressive.
“He was having a pretty good first two months of the season,” Rodriguez said. “But he was willing to pay the price. And at first, he struggled with the new approach. But he kept with it and now we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
It seems like a long time ago now that Aguilar, 23, leads all of Double-A baseball with 100 RBI — breaking the previous single-season record of 98 owned by former Akron third baseman Wes Hodges (2008) and catcher Carlos Santana (’09).
However, with just seven games remaining in the season and the Aeros (64-69) all but out of the playoff race, the Eastern League record of 138 RBI (set by Binghamton’s Ken Harrelson in 1962) likely isn’t reachable.
But that’s of little concern to Aguilar, who is more than happy to have reached triple digits, especially considering his previous high was 69 RBI – set two seasons ago at low Class-A Lake County in 2011.
That’s why Aguilar was rated by Baseball America as just the Indians’ 10th best prospect heading into the season, a ranking that’s likely to change for the better after the coming-out party that’s been his 2013 season.
There wasn’t much concern over whether Aguilar would reach the century mark in RBI the last few weeks. The question was merely when he’d do it.
There was a five-day lull in between the time Aguilar set the franchise record and when he finally picked up the all-important 100th RBI on Sunday. After the Aeros’ 6-2 victory over visiting Binghamton, he admitted he’d been pressing in an attempt to pick up the milestone.
“I got five days thinking about one more RBI, one more RBI, one more RBI,” said Aguilar, who entered Monday’s game against Erie batting .272 with 28 doubles, 15 home runs and 63 runs scored.
Signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2007 out of Venezuela, Aguilar was originally a third baseman. Indians officials quickly moved him across the diamond and even briefly in the outfield before he settled in for good at first base.
Last season in 107 games at Carolina, Aguilar hit a similar .277 with 25 doubles and 12 home runs – but with just 58 RBI. He spent 20 games with the Aeros in a late-season call-up, batting at an even better .292.
Now, following his standout 2013 campaign, Aguilar’s name will likely be written in the Aeros’ and league record books for some time to come.