While there may not have been a consensus last spring, I think it is safe to say that there was at least a majority opinion that the position player who was likely the key to a successful 2009 was shortstop Mike Aviles. After all, Aviles had been in the running for rookie of the year in 2008 and had done so at arguably the weakest position both depth and prospect wise in the Royals’ system.

Of course we all know what happened. Aviles was injured in spring training, tried to play through it and didn’t tell the team that he was hurt.It was a horrific year that ended mercifully in May when Mike went under the knife. The lack of options within the organization were once again exposed and seemingly panicked Dayton Moore into trading two minor league pitchers (including former top prospect Dan Cortes) for Yuniesky Betancourt.

Just how good was Mike Aviles in 2008? Well, let’s use Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement Level, which incorporates offense and defense, as our measuring stick and look back at the Royals’ position player leaders in this category over the last six years.

Wins Above Replacement Level

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
David DeJesus 3.3 Mike Aviles 4.4 David DeJesus 2.6 David DeJesus 3.9 David DeJesus 4.2 Joe Randa 3.1
Alberto Callaspo 2.8 David DeJesus 2.6 Mark Grudzielanek 2.5 Mark Teahen 3.2 Mike Sweeney 2.1 Carlos Beltran 2.6
Billy Butler 2.5 Alex Gordon 2.4 Mark Teahen 2.1 Emil Brown 3.1 Emil Brown 1.6 David DeJesus 1.1

That’s right, Mike Aviles was arguably the Royals best position player in the LAST SIX YEARS. You have to go back to 2003 and Carlos Beltran (6.1 WAR) to find a position player with a better ranking than Aviles posted in 2008. That brings up several questions.

First, was Aviles really that good? Or did he benefit from a high balls in play batting average and a fair amount of rookie luck? Well, yes and no.

No player will consistently post a .357 BABIP year after year, so Aviles almost certainly would have to regress some. That said, this is a guy who popped 41 extra base hits in just over 100 games. There were certainly a few ‘Texas Leaguers’ in those doubles, but by and large it is hard to hit that many extra base hits and chalk it all up to just good fortune.

Additionally, Aviles as a rookie got his hacks in and walked sparingly. While there is nothing in Mike’s long minor league track record to make one believe he is suddenly going to walk 100 times per year, it would seem to make sense that he would walk more than he did in his rookie year. Which, in some part, would make up for not being as lucky with his BABIP. Look at the chart above once more:Mike Aviles could regress at the plate and likely still be one of the team’s better offensive weapons.

The big question at this point, of course, is can Aviles play shortstop again? To date, Mike has only played or even practiced as far as I know on the right side of the diamond.The Royals traded for Chris Getz (who I like) and already had Alberto Callaspo, a fine hitter in his own right, and could find themselves in the position of having three guys who play the same position being among the best nine hitters they possess.

Everything looks a whole lot better if Mike Aviles can still make the throws from shortstop. His value defensively is obviously higher at short than at second (although he might be the best defensive second baseman of the bunch right now) and his bat is so much better than anyone who has played shortstop since…well…Freddie Patek.

Keep in mind, this is a team that in Yuniesky Betancourt, Tony Pena Jr and Angel Berroa has trotted out a string of shortstops that have had NEGATIVE value to their team. Not only that, with Jeff Bianchi going down with arm woes this spring, the void to the next possible shortstop candidate in the system is huge.

The Royals are not contenders in 2010 with a healthy Mike Aviles playing shortstop, but they are certainly in a better position with him than without him. You want 2010 to be at least interesting? Then Mike Aviles, as he was last spring, is the key to that happening.