Toolshed: Filia's bat earns spot in AFL

After issues in college, Mariners prospect takes off at plate in pros

Eric Filia is a career .337 hitter over 197 games in the Minor Leagues. (Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | October 20, 2017 10:00 AM ET

It's called the Filia Shimmy. It even has its own #FiliaShimmy hashtag. Before every at-bat, Eric Filia stops short of the left side of the batter's box, bends both knees, bounces back to full height and gives both shoulders a few rhythmic dips. It's the age of the bat flip, and yet, Filia is adding his flair before even seeing a pitch.

What often follows is a hit or at the very least a professional plate appearance. But that's not the only reason the Mariners prospect tries to add his own touches to the game.

"I've talked with coaches about having a routine down and a process before every at-bat," he said. "But this year, I wanted to add little personality, and it kinda worked out so I never stopped. You're supposed to have fun after all. I'll hear some stuff from the dugout or the crowd or something. But it's baseball. Be loose. I want to bring a little fun with me whenever I hit."

Tweet from @ModestoNuts: How do you "Filia" ?? Show us, tag us, & win tix to Friday night's game! RT to be entered to win. #GoNuts pic.twitter.com/nZ3iaB69u2

That outlook is understandable when you understand where Filia, currently playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, has been in his baseball life. 

The Huntington Beach, California native played a role as a freshman during UCLA's run to the College World Series in 2012 and, one year later, he was arguably the team's best hitter en route to the school's first NCAA championship, leading the club with a .281 average and .387 on-base percentage in 66 games.

The left-handed hitter was entering what could have been his Draft year in 2014 on an incredible high and got a chance to play in the elite wood-bat Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer following the title run. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury that later required labrum surgery, knocking him out for all of 2014 as a medical redshirt. He missed the 2015 season as well for completely different reasons. Filia was suspended from school for 2014-15 as a result of a plagiarized philosophy assignment. He took the time to work odd jobs, including one as a butler at the Playboy Mansion, but spent most of his time focusing on what he could do to get back to UCLA.

"I had to grow up," he said. "I was a young man and had to find out what my priorities are, what's most important in my life. Because of that, I didn't want to take things harshly or too personally. I'm honestly grateful I had a good support staff, from my friends and family. ... They helped me embrace what happened and treat it as a learning experience. What I did was wrong and I moved forward. A lot of credit goes to [UCLA head coach John] Savage, allowing me to play at UCLA one last time and also get my degree."

Putting the injury and scandal firmly behind him, Filia returned to what he did best -- hitting.He was an All-Pac-12 pick after producing a .295/.415/.411 line with 41 walks and only 20 strikeouts in 55 games with the Bruins. That production aside, he still entered the 2016 Draft as a 23-year-old with makeup concerns as a result of the suspension. In other words, few teams would be in a rush to get an older college player who'd have little advantage in bonus negotiations. He ended up going in the 20th round (597th overall) to the Mariners. (Aside: That started an interesting run. Nick Lovullo, son of D-backs manager Torey, went at 598 to the Red Sox. Connor Grey, who threw a perfect game this season for Class A Kane County, went at 599 to the D-backs.)

In Filia's view, there was no time to waste worrying about his low Draft status. Just a chance to sign and continue getting yet another chance in the game, this time at the professional level.

"I'm honestly just grateful for the opportunity," he said. "I didn't care when I'd go, where I'd go or how much I signed for. Being gone for two years just made me happy to have baseball at all. Baseball's funny like that. You go from the highest of the highs of winning an NCAA title to the lowest of lows being hurt and then suspended. It helped during those couple of years to take the time off the field to find out what type of person I am first and then let that carry over to on the field."

It didn't take long for the former Bruin to show his game could translate to the Minor League ranks.

One week after being selected, Filia took the field for Class A Short Season Everett. He would end up leading the Northwest League with a .362 average, .450 on-base percentage, 89 hits and 122 total bases.

It was much of the same in his first full campaign this summer at Class A Advanced Modesto. The Nuts right fielder led the hitter-friendly California League with a .407 OBP and added a .326 average (third-best on the circuit) over 128 games. With impressive hand-eye coordination and a solid approach at the plate, he earned a league-best 65 walks while striking out only 45 times over 567 plate appearances. That ratio of 1.44 BB/K was the highest among full-season Minor Leaguers in 2017.

Video: Filia's bases-clearing double for Modesto

With only five homers and a .434 slugging percentage for Modesto, there wasn't much power to speak of this season, but the rest of the offensive profile is too good to be ignored. Simply put, everywhere in the Mariners system, he's hit.

"Seattle is a big organization for being on time with the fastball and then adjusting to off-speed stuff," Filia said. "When I buy into that and just try to swing at my pitches, not the pitchers' pitches, that's when I have the success I've had."

The Mariners didn't promote Filia during the summer, but got aggressive with their 2016 20th-rounder with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League -- a move the 25-year-old found to be a surprise, given he thought the organization would send younger players. The primary objective has been to work on a potential move to first base, where he's made three starts in addition to four at his usual spot in right field. He's leaned on Josh Naylor (Padres) for help in that regard and has also developed a rapport with Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis, who is also seeing time at first. 

While those defensive questions remain, Filia continues to ensure there are no doubts about his bat. Entering Friday, he is 13-for-23 with a triple, three doubles and six RBIs in his first seven games with the Javelinas. Perhaps predictably, he's walked more times (three) than he's struck out (two) over 27 plate appearances. Once again, his .565 average and .593 OBP are tops in the league, even in this small sample.

Given his spot as the oldest position player on the Peoria roster, Filia likely would have been asked to be a leader with the AFL club, but he's got more than enough life experience to fill the role as well.

"Baseball can be gone in the blink of an eye, so while I still have it, I'm going to leave my heart on the field. That's really what I'm all about, trying to make baseball fun again. I love playing ball every time I can, and I believe it shows with how I play."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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