Take a look at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s top 30 prospects list on MLB’s website and you will not see the name Eric Aguilera. He’s missing from Baseball America’s list as well. The 25 year old from the Village of Cary Illinois (Population 18,271) has spent 2015 destroying California League pitchers for the Inland Empire 66ers. Aguilera was drafted in the 34th round of the 2013 draft by the Angels out of Illinois State. Prior to transferring to Illinois State, Eric played at Heartland Community College by way of Cary-Grove High School. This is where we will begin because I do not want to spoil the surprise if you have not heard about Eric Aguilera or you do not spend six months at San Manuel Stadium or the other 9 California League ball parks watching him work on a nightly basis. I know the 34th round sounds pretty far down. The draft is only 40 rounds as of 2012, so if you are wondering what my deal is, continue reading!
What do Keith Hernandez, Mark Buehrle, Kenny Rogers (former MLB pitcher not the singer), and Mike Piazza all have in common? They were drafted in later rounds than round 34 that Eric Aguilera heard his name called in. It is safe to say the 65 years (and counting as Buehrle is still going strong) these four men amassed tells you, it doesn’t matter what round you were drafted in. People slip through cracks and some teams get extremely lucky because of it!
Eric had a monstrous senior year for Cary-Grove High School. He hit .425, was named to the Fox Valley All Conference Team, and helped his team win the Fox Valley Division Championship. Eric would be named Northwest Herald and Daily Herald First Team All-Area. From there, it was off to Heartland Community College where in his freshman season, Aguilera hit .442 with 15 doubles, 11 home runs, and 59 RBI. In his sophomore season he batted .470 with 18 doubles, 6 triples, 20 home runs, and 71 RBI. I asked Eric who had been his biggest influence in his life and he proudly said his mother Lynn and his Father Ruben. “They’ve supported me throughout the whole process and have sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am today. I’m extremely grateful for having them in my life.” From a baseball standpoint, Eric credits his hitting coach at Heartland, Ryan Knox with “getting the ball rolling.” “I was just a walk on at a new junior college. He helped me out a lot and I continue to keep in touch and see him all the time.” Eric would rack up quite a list of accomplishments at Heartland. He was NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) First Team All American, Region 24 Player of the Year, NJCAA All Region 24 Team, Mid West Athletic Conference Player of the Year, MWAC First Team All-Conference, and helped lead the Hawks to a MWAC Conference Championship.
In 2012, Eric transferred to Illinois State and continued to rake. He had a .330/.355/.483 slash line in 52 games. He led the Red Birds in home runs, was second in hits, led the Missouri Valley Conference with a .407 batting average, and was named All Missouri Valley First Team. Yes kids, if you are reading this and you are a high school baseball player, even with all of this success, Eric was a 34th rounder. Getting drafted is one of the hardest things to do in sports (outside of hitting a baseball which Ags does very well).
Eric started his pro career in Orem in 2013. He played in 59 games with the Owls and did what he had always done, mashed. Aguilera had a .306/.341/.539 slash in his first season as a pro. To start the 2014 season, Ags was in Burlington, the Angels Low A team. He also saw action in 11 games at Inland Empire during 2014 as a 66er from April 24 through May 6. The rest of the season was spent in Burlington where he was a Midwest League All Star. He hit .292 in 124 games with a .342 on base percentage and a .446 slugging percentage. To call his time at Burlington monstrous is no exaggeration. He led the Bees in home runs and RBI. He was second in batting average and was top 5 on the team in doubles, triples, on base percentage, slugging, and OPS. I asked what were the biggest adjustments he had to make from college to pro ball. “I’d say the biggest adjustment is the schedule. You play every day for the most part and you have to come ready to compete each and every day. Finding ways to stay within the process, staying consistent, and keeping your body healthy are all things young players have to learn to do.”
I wanted to know about any goals he himself had set or if he had gotten together with manager Denny Hocking for 2015. “Before the season started, Denny and I sat down and set a couple goals to try and accomplish this year. I think my performance and development is my feedback. I’m happy with the year and the strides that I have made this year as a baseball player.” This season, Eric has been tremendous for the Sixers. I take photos during the season and I have noticed some small differences in his at bats at different points of the season and here is what he had to say about those differences, “There has been some slight adjustments this year from time to time. Overall, as a whole I’d say the key points of the swing have remained the same. Some of the adjustments you’ll see are often times things that are helping me at the moment to stay consistent and allow me to compete that day. At times this year I have struggled with little timing issues and staying connected so I may make a slight adjustment to try and fix or better my swing in the long run. It is more so trial and error type of deal.” Through 103 games including tonight’s game, Aguilera is batting .328 with 35 doubles, 3 triples, 14 home runs, 81 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. In his last ten games he has put up video game numbers. .425 batting average, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 14 RBI and 11 walks. His totals have him ranked very high with the California League Leaders. He is currently second in batting average at .328, second in hits with 134, first in doubles with 35, second in OBP with .395, third in the league in RBI with 81, fifth in runs with 70, and has 14 taters. The production is phenomenal.
Eric Aguilera is a very good left handed bat with pop (isn’t that what the Angels have been on the hunt for)? Unfortunately for him, there is a tremendous log jam in the system currently with Albert Pujols and CJ Cron in Anaheim, Efren Navarro and Grant Green in AAA, and the three headed monster of Brian Hernandez, Wade Hinkle, and Michael Snyder in AA Arkansas. This is why he is still torturing the arms and egos in the California League. I asked Eric if he looks at the box scores from AA and AAA games to see what those ahead of him are doing. I also asked where he sees himself in the next two years. “I don’t really look at the box scores very much. Maybe to check on teammates and friends but I try to just stay focused on what’s going on with our team here in IE. Obviously the players in front of me are very talented and there is a little bit of a clog there. Pujols is having a great year. Cron and Navarro have contributed back and forth and Snyder, Hernandez, and Hinkle are all very talented players. In the next two years I hope to just continue to see movement in the organization, and hopefully make a name for myself as a baseball player. Hopefully at some point in my career I’m given an opportunity to contribute to a Major League team whether it be the Angels or another organization.”
I wanted to get to know a little more about Eric Aguilera so I offered up some fun questions to see some of his personality.
Me: Do you have any pre game rituals or superstitions?
Ags: “Well, being from the Midwest, I do not have my car out here. As far as pre-game rituals go, I just try to find a way to the field every day haha. Other than that, I’m not too superstitious or anything like that so I just make sure when I come to the ball park each day I get my work done and be ready come game time.”
Me: Recently you had hit safely in 8 straight at bats and you went 6 for 6 in a game. Are you just seeing the ball that well right now?
Ags: Streaks like that mean you are doing something right. It takes a lot of luck too. The 6 for 6 night with the exception of the double off the wall were all grounders that got through. I had a capper over the third baseman’s head, barely beating a shift. It’s all about placement!
Me: If you were not playing baseball, what would you be doing?
Ags: Not too sure about that. I’ve got my degree from Illinois State University in Business, so I imagine putting those well spent dollars to good use. I don’t like to think about that. I’m just enjoying my time in the game right now and making the most of it.
Me: I hear the stories about living situations and roommates in the minor leagues. Can you share a story with us about current or former roommates?
Ags: My roommates have changed all year. Right now I live with Stephen McGee, Mike Fish, Ronnie Muck, and Brandon Bayardi. Sean Newcomb had a nice stay and Eason Spivey has also spent some time there. That’s just kind of how minor league baseball works. I don’t know if those funny stories are appropriate to put out there! Haha. We have a pretty talented household from a music standpoint between Mike Fish being a wiz with the guitar and Muck being a DJ in his spare time. Check him out DJ RONR3GO!
Me: Who was your favorite baseball team growing up and favorite player?
Ags: Favorite team growing up was the Chicago White Sox and I was always a big fan of Ken Griffey Jr.
Me: If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Ags: I’m going to go with Chris Farley or Will Farrell. I think that’d make for an entertaining dinner!
Me: Favorite restaurant or fast food?
Ags: Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish. No question!
Me: You are in California, what have you done on off days?
Ags: We are close enough to water so we try to check out the beach every off day. We rented a beach house in San Diego during the All Star break, we’ve hit Huntington Beach, and spent yesterday at Laguna. Days off by the water relaxing and getting some sun.
Me: You, Kody Eaves, and Andrew Daniel play Rock Paper Scissors to see who takes a walk for playing catch, do you have an opening move and a certain move when you need a win?
Ags: I’m afraid if I reveal this secret my Rock Paper Scissors record is going to suffer, but I’m a big believer in paper!
Me: Besides Ags, do you have any other nicknames?
Ags: Ags is pretty much the only one used. There are some others floating around from friends back home that I can’t put my finger on at the moment but I don’t hear my first name being used often.
Me: Favorite music, singer, or band?
Ags: I like it all. Rap, Country, House/EDM. Anything from Kid Ink, Drake, to Dave Mathews Band. If you opened my Pandora station you’d probably see Hits of the 90’s going. Just depends what I’m feeling at the moment.
I would like to thank Eric Aguilera for his time and for opening up to me. It is appreciated. I wish you continued success and I will definitely be following your career! You can find Eric on Twitter at @ags_33, you can follow 80 Grade Halos at @80GradeHalos and follow me on Twitter at @JEspinoza1634.