FORT MYERS, Fla. - Mike Aviles has been an infielder throughout his career, primarily a shortstop. But when the Red Sox asked him to play winter ball in Puerto Rico to better learn how to play the outfield, he agreed, knowing that versatility would help keep him on the roster.
Then the Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies Jan. 21. Now Aviles is the leading candidate to start the season at shortstop.
That Scutaro was traded a month before spring training came as a surprise.
“He’s done well here the last couple of years. He’s been a big part of this team. You usually don’t trade your starting shortstop,’’ Aviles said.
But Aviles welcomed the opportunity. The 30-year-old hasn’t been an everyday shortstop since his rookie season with Kansas City in 2008. But he considers it his natural position.
Aviles hit .317 with a .775 OPS in 107 plate appearances for the Sox last season after being obtained at the July trade deadline. He and Nick Punto will compete for time at shortstop with 22-year-old Jose Iglesias a possibility, although the Sox would prefer he get more experience in the minors.
Aviles has played against Punto and respects him.
“He’s one of the guys, playing against him the last couple of years, you kind of hate because he does so many little things,’’ Aviles said. “If you’re playing defense against him, it’s so frustrating. You can play him up the middle and he’ll hit one up the hole. You play him toward the hole and he’ll hit one up the middle. He does so many things good. He’s that guy you can’t get him out.’’
Aviles said he worked hard at learning the outfield, to the point where he was “a little bummed’’ at learning he was back at shortstop for now. But those skills could come into play during the season, especially if Iglesias proves worthy of a call-up.
Manager Bobby Valentine is confident it will work out.
“We talked about that trade before it was done. I was all on board with it, totally,’’ he said. “Believe it or not, when I make out the lineup against Boston University and Boston College [on March 3], I’ll have a shortstop, and some surprises out there. When we open up in Detroit there will also be a shortstop.’’
Valentine laughed at his mistake when told that the Sox are playing Northeastern that day and BU doesn’t have a team.
“We’ll beat them both!’’ he said. “This fact-checking thing. I hate that. You mean I’m going to be held accountable for what I say?’’
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman does not see the Red Sox as being in a downfall.
“What happened with the Red Sox last year did not represent what the Red Sox are whatsoever,’’ he told reporters in Tampa. “Adversity and that type of ending automatically presses a reset button for that franchise.
“Their players are going to come in and have a completely different culture now. They have a brand-new spring training facility opening up this year, they have a new manager, new general manager, players that had to self-evaluate last year all winter long.
“I guarantee every one of those players comes into camp in the best shape they’ve ever been in. Not that they weren’t in the past, but if there was any question, I guarantee that’s not going to be a question now. They’ll be geared up.’’
Varitek not expected
It appears Jason Varitek will not accept the team’s offer of a minor league contract and an invitation to camp. “I don’t have any expectation. I haven’t heard that we should get his uniform ready,’’ Valentine said . . . Catching instructor and bullpen coach Gary Tuck remains away from the team following surgery. “I don’t want the calendar to dictate his return to uniform,’’ Valentine said. “He’s a tough guy who’s going through a personal situation internally and it’s painful. I told him take as much time as he can. His catchers and our guys will fill the void until he gets here.’’ . . . The only missing pitcher or catcher is righthander Alfredo Aceves, who is having visa issues in Mexico.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.