GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Avila is a firm believer that leadership has more to do with how a player conducts himself off the field than how he performs on it.
On the second official day with his new club, Avila was asked Saturday if he can provide the White Sox with much-needed leadership this season. The catcher — who signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in November — didn’t rule out the possibility. But were he to step into that role, Avila expects he would so with a more low-key approach.
“I think there’s a misconception when it comes to respect and leadership,” Avila said. “People think that you’re kind of like born like that. It’s something that’s earned. …
“People over the years have seen me, the way I carry myself.
“It’s not so much something you should earn by how you play. There’s a lot of d---heads that play really well that you wouldn’t consider leaders.”
Robin Ventura agrees with Avila’s stance. Though they’ve only begun to work with each other this week, Ventura knows the type of leadership Avila provided to the Detroit Tigers for seven seasons. The White Sox manager thinks Avila can offer the same to his club and suggested the catcher sticks to his approach and eventually it would work.
“Those things evolve,” Ventura said. “(In) talking to Alex, it’s like, don’t go in there and try to hang a sign out on your locker that says I’m the leader because it will come to him.
“That stuff is earned. You can’t come in and pound your chest and say ‘I’m the guy that’s going to lead’ because the things that make you not a leader are going to come out.”
Good health is likely to be a huge factor in Avila becoming a leader and he expects it to be there. He thinks the knee problems that dogged him for several seasons, including a trip to the disabled list in 2015, are in the past.
Avila was on the DL from May 8 to June 2, after which he required time to get back into baseball shape. But once healthy, Avila said he felt much better and it carried over to this offseason.
“It felt as good as it had felt in probably quite a few years,” Avila said. “I was really encouraged by it. I haven't had any issues with it over the offseason through all my workouts. It was the first offseason I was able to have that I didn't have to go through any type of rehab or anything like that.”
Avila played with closer David Robertson at Alabama and knows several White Sox players. But most of the team’s pitching staff is brand new, which means he has just begun the get-to-know-you phase with many pitchers. Avila said the only spring training goal he has set for himself is to catch each pitcher on the staff. Through two days, Avila has caught Chris Sale, Erik Johnson, Carson Fulmer, Zach Putnam and Zach Duke.
Sale likes the additions of Avila and Dioner Navarro. He said their experience speaks for itself.
“I think it’s going to be a smooth transition,” Sale said.
Avila thinks so, too, even if he’s experiencing an entirely new world this spring. He arrived in Phoenix a week early to familiarize himself with the new complex and city, having spent every other spring in his career in Florida.
“It's different,” Avila said. “It's a little strange. I was joking with some of the clubhouse guys that when they send me catcher's gear it's still going to be navy and white rather than black and white. It's a little different, but after a few days you get over that and really the only thing you focus on is getting ready for games and playing.”
As for the leadership, that will come on its own and should have very little to do with what takes place on the field. If and when it does arrive, Avila also expects it will happen with little fanfare.
“If I’m doing my job right as far as being a leader, you won’t hear about it,” Avila said.