Aviles named Royals' Player of Year

Aviles named KC's Player of Year

KANSAS CITY -- Mike Aviles got to the party a bit late, but when he arrived, he really kicked up his heels.

Aviles, a rookie shortstop, was named winner of the Les Milgram Award as Player of the Year for 2008 as the Royals announced their annual awards on Tuesday.

Joakim Soria, who became one of the game's most dependable closers, won the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award.

Zack Greinke, after re-establishing himself as a top starting pitcher, won the Joe Burke Award for special achievement.

The winners were picked in a vote of the Kansas City Chapter, Baseball Writers' Association of America. Soria was a unanimous selection.

They will be honored at the renewal of the KC Baseball Awards Dinner, which will kick off the Royals FanFest weekend on Friday, Jan. 16, at the Sheraton Hotel adjoining the Overland Park Convention Center.

Aviles was in his third season with Triple-A Omaha when the Royals called him up on May 29. He didn't become the permanent replacement for Tony Pena Jr. at shortstop until June 6, when he started against the Yankees in his hometown, the Bronx, and banged two doubles.

That launched a superb rookie season for Aviles at age 27. Not only did he lead all Major League rookies with a .325 average, but he was second among American League rookies with a .354 on-base percentage and was third in hits, 136, and runs, 68.

"I'm usually a confident kid, and I like challenges," Aviles said. "What better way to meet a challenge than to be a Major League shortstop? It doesn't get any harder than that, I think. In my case, I just went about my business and tried to do the best I can. Fortunately for me, it all fell into place and I ended up with a pretty big year."

"I'm usually a confident kid, and I like challenges. What better way to meet a challenge than to be a Major League shortstop? It doesn't get any harder than that, I think."
-- Mike Aviles

Batting most often in the No. 2 slot but also used as the leadoff man, Aviles was credited with giving new life to the Royals' lineup. He drove in 52 runs and belted 10 homers. Defense wasn't his career hallmark, but he gave the Royals a remarkably solid performance at shortstop.

"The knock on me has always been my defense, and I've never really believed in any of that," he said. "I knew I was a pretty good defensive player, and it was just a matter of getting a chance to show it, and what better place to show it than on the biggest stage in all of professional sports?"

Aviles is the third rookie to be Royals Player of the Year, joining Bob Hamelin in 1994 and David DeJesus in 2004.

Soria, who notched 42 saves in 45 opportunities, finished second in the American League only to Francisco Rodriguez's 62 saves for the Angels.

Although his 17 saves as a rookie in 2007 showed promise, Soria eliminated any doubts with his 2008 domination. For the first time since the heyday of Jeff Montgomery a decade before, he gave the Royals a feeling of ninth-inning invincibility.

The "Mexicutioner" served notice by beginning the season with 16 1/3 scoreless innings. He also opened with 13 straight saves, breaking Al Hrabosky's 1978 club record. At one point, he retired 24 consecutive batters, and he gave up runs in just eight of his 63 games.

"It's always important to start the season good and keep going and treat the whole season the same," Soria said.

Soria, 24, was the Royals' representative to the All-Star Game, and the club recognized his great value by signing him to a three-year contract extension with three option years that could run through 2014.

"He just did it all," Greinke said. "He was by far our most valuable pitcher because in years past there was no one who did anything close to that. We probably would've lost six or seven more games this year if it wasn't for him closing."

Soria is the sixth reliever named the Royals' top pitcher, joining Mark Littell in 1976, Dan Quisenberry in 1980, '82, '83 and '84, Steve Farr in 1990, Montgomery in 1998 and Mike MacDougal in 2005.

After spending his first two seasons with the Royals as a rotation regular, Greinke went through a well-chronicled case of personal issues in 2006, and he spent most of that season in the Minors. When he returned for 2007, he quickly was bumped to the bullpen and finally pitched his way out late in the season.

That process continued splendidly in 2008, as he made 32 starts and, with a 13-10 record, joined Gil Meche as an effective one-two punch. Greinke's ERA of 3.47 was the lowest for a Royals pitcher with at least 162 innings since Kevin Appier's 3.40 in 1997.

"We put up a pretty good season, but we just didn't get as many wins as we thought," Greinke said. "For me, it was pretty good. I stayed healthy and kept us in the game just about every game, and that's kind of the goal because you can't win too many games by yourself."

Greinke, 25, tied Meche with a team-high 183 strikeouts and worked a career-most 202 1/3 innings. With just 56 walks, he had the 10th-best strikeout-to-walks ratio in the AL.

Each award winner had a good September as the Royals went 18-8 to emerge from last place and finish fourth in the AL Central. Aviles led all rookies with 33 hits and scored 22 runs; Soria had nine saves and a victory in 10 appearances and didn't give up a run, and Greinke was 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in five starts.

A sign of things to come in 2009?

"Hopefully the team will start the season like September with everything going good, the hitters hitting the ball good, the pitching good and everything good," Soria said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.