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Previewing the Tigers: Alex Avila may regress but will still be solid contributor

We're going to start a new series today, previewing the Detroit Tigers player by player. These are patterned after the short biographies that ran in the (sadly defunct) Maple Street Press annual last year. Expect much of the bullpen and the bench players to be doubled up a bit during the final week before the season, but we'll go one a day until then, by uniform numbers

Alex Avila #13

When Alex Avila made his Tigers debut in 2009, he caused instant excitement. With extra-base power and the ability to get on base, it wasn't long before fans were starting to talk about the (then) 22-year-old like was the next Johnny Bench or something. With a .590 slugging average, you could almost see why if you didn't realize the sample size was too small to make any proclamations of greatness, Avila paid for our hubris when nothing seemed to go right for him as a backup to Gerald Laird in 2010. A .228 average, .316 on-base percentage, .340 slugging line had people questioning whether the Tigers were crazy in having him start at catcher in 2011. They were proven right, of course, when he found ways to get on base and hit for power, eventually earning a starting spot in the 2011 All-Sar Game.

So what should we expect in 2012? It's not unreasonable to expect a bit of a step back. A .366 BaBIP last season was far above his career average or his minor league figures. He's not exactly an Ichiro-type batter who is speedy and hits a lot of balls at eye level or below. So a repeat of the .295 average seems unlikely. But Avila should continue to hit the ball often enough, maintaining an average in the .265-.270 range, while continuing to walk in better than 10% of his plate appearances and continuing to hit for power. Isolated power levels above .200 seem unlikely, but he will certainly be closer to .200 than .150 at the end of the year.

Avila will continue to be an important member of the line-up -- and a useful pick in your fantasy drafts -- in 2012.