Despite Injuries, Norfolk's Aubrey Just Keeps Swinging

Orioles Minor League Spotlight

August 04, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Michael Aubrey's situation isn't unique.

Plenty of first-round picks have seen their careers derailed by injuries and attempted to make good on a second chance in the minors.

What sets Aubrey apart, however, is what has given him strength as he has battled through back and leg injuries: his bat.

"I've been able to hit wherever I've been," said Aubrey, Triple-A Norfolk's first baseman. "I've never lost confidence in my ability to hit."

Aubrey, whom the Orioles acquired in June from the Cleveland Indians for future considerations, was one of college baseball's best prospects when he left Tulane as a junior in 2003.

Heading into 2005, Baseball America had ranked him as the second-best prospect in Cleveland's system.

But 2005 was a disaster.

Aubrey, a 6-foot, 200-pound left-hander with a sweet, line-drive swing, played in just 27 games with Double-A Akron before being forced to the disabled list with lower back inflammation. It was the third consecutive year in which he had landed on the DL, but the first because of his back.

He was shelved for a month; in his return game, he batted twice before leaving with more back pain. He was later diagnosed with a stress fracture and missed the rest of the season. In 2006, he was limited to 14 games because of the back injury and a right knee strain.

"It was a tough time, a rough two years," said Aubrey, who says he is now fully healthy. "It makes you appreciate the game and appreciate going out there and playing on a daily basis. It took a lot of determination to stick with it and stay positive."

By the start of 2007, Baseball America had dropped Aubrey out of its top 30 Indians prospects. That year, he missed nearly two months with hamstring and abdominal troubles.

A career .294 hitter in the minors, Aubrey failed to hit above .260 in 2007 at any minor league level for the only time in his now seven pro seasons. He went to the Arizona Fall League after that season and rediscovered his stroke.

The payoff came in 2008. He hit .281 combined at Double-A and Triple-A and briefly made the majors, homering against the Cincinnati Reds' Edinson Volquez for his first big league hit.

Perhaps more important, for the first time in his pro career, he escaped the DL.

In the offseason, however, the Indians dropped him from their 40-man roster when they signed pitcher Carl Pavano. And this June, while Aubrey was hitting .292 for Triple-A Columbus, they shipped him to the Orioles.

"I look at this as a wonderful opportunity to get a new start," said Aubrey, who has hit .282 (35-for-124) with three homers and 21 RBIs in his first 34 games with the Tides. "It's a new look, and maybe I will open up some eyes and make them make a tough decision."

For the Orioles, acquiring Aubrey was an easy call. He is just 27, plays a strong first base and could fit into the club's plans for the position in 2010 if Aubrey Huff is not re-signed.

"I think if he stays healthy he has a very good chance to be a major leaguer again," Orioles director of player development David Stockstill said.

Aubrey had no shortage of Orioles personnel willing to endorse the move. International scouting director John Stockstill scouted Aubrey heavily when he was at Tulane and was the scouting director for the Chicago Cubs. Double-A Bowie manager Brad Komminsk managed Aubrey at Akron in 2004.

Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, also a former Indians first-round pick, played with Aubrey in the minors.

"He is such a natural talent: great swing, great approach," Guthrie said. "I don't think very often he comes out just trying to be nice and easy up there. He is going to be consistent when he is healthy and able to swing like his body should allow him to."

If there is any other concern about Aubrey it's that he hasn't exhibited the power expected from a first baseman. He has eight total homers this season, but he is a doubles machine - with 27 so far at his two Triple-A stops. So the Orioles believe the power potential is there.

"If he gets more at-bats, he'll show more power than he has now. He has plenty of bat speed to have power," David Stockstill said. "You never know. People in baseball sometimes get a new lease on life. Certainly, we are hoping this is one of those stories."

Tides bits: : Second baseman Justin Turner is the only player from the Tides' Opening Day starting lineup who is still on the club's active roster. ... First baseman Brandon Snyder, 22, batted .378 (14-for-37) with 10 RBIs in his previous 10 games to improve his Norfolk average to .245 in 151 at-bats.

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