Monday, August 6, 2012

Should fans have expected more from Valencia?

When Danny Valenica took over the starting third base job for the Twins in 2010, he looked like he could be the first player to lock down the position since Corey Koskie left the team in 2004. In his first season with the club, Valencia hit .311/.351/.799 with 26 extra-base hits in 85 games with the Twins. He finished third in the rookie of the year voting for the American League and his defense looked better than had been advertised during his time in the minor leagues. It seemed that the time was right for Valencia to fit into the order and his right handed bat could help to break up some of the lefties in the Twins line-up. Things have changed quite a bit since 2010.

The Twins struggled to keep anyone healthy and in the line-up in 2011 so Valencia's relatively good health kept him as a viable option for the team. He played in 154 games for the Twins last year and his 147 games started at third base were the most in the American League. It seemed that Valencia found himself in the midst of a sophomore slump at the plate and on the defensive side of the ball. He hit .246/.294/.383 with 15 home runs and 72 RBI over the course of the year. While some of these numbers rank near the team leaders for 2011, they are not outstanding figures for the player that was trying to show that he deserved the third base spot for the foreseeable future.

If 2011 was a rough season for Valencia, the 2012 campaign must have been a nightmare for the 27-year old corner infielder. He struggled during his time at the big league level by hitting .198/.212/.310 in 126 at-bats. When the team left spring training, Valencia was still the team's starting third baseman but that only lasted until the beginning of May. He was sent to Rochester and he should have hit the cover off of the ball for an older player that had close to 1000 plate appearances in the major leagues. His time with Rochester was not very memorable as he batted .250/.289/.399 with seven home runs and 37 RBI in 69 games with the club. By the beginning of August, he found himself out of a job with the Twins and in another organization after being traded to the Red Sox. 

The emergence of Trevor Plouffe as a power hitting threat at third base made Valenica expendable for the Twins. Unlike Valencia, Plouffe was a first round pick by the Twins and he has been seen as a prospect with more upside during his time in the minor leagues. It is also helpful that Plouffe is younger than Valencia and he will be under team control for multiple seasons in the future. Before Plouffe suffered his rest hand injury, it looked like he could be on pace for a fantastic power season. He was running neck and neck with Josh Willingham for the team lead in home runs and Plouffe's batting average has been slowly increasing with his power numbers. Valencia's poor play pushed him out of a job and it seems that Plouffe has finally found his stroke with the Twins.

With Valencia's career now complete with the Twins, should fans have expected more from Valencia? 

When Valencia made his debut with the Twins in 2010, he was already 25-years old which isn't the optimal age to be reaching the big league level. After the Twins took Valenica with their 19th round pick in 2006, he spent parts of the next five seasons trying to prove himself in the minor leagues. He was taken by the Twins out of college so it would have been nice to see him move through the farm system a little faster than he did. That being said, he was a 19th round pick so it wasn't exactly expected for him to have a long tenured career at the big league level. He showed some signs of good things in the minor leagues and the Twins gave him a chance at the major league level. His minor league track record makes his tenure with the Twins seem to be right about where it should have been.

There could be some future for Valencia at the big league level but his new team, the Red Sox, has a budding rookie third baseman that seems to be blocking the way. Valencia will again have to prove himself in the minor leagues for the Red Sox before he will get another shot at the major league level. He could be used in a platoon situation because he hits left handed pitching at a pretty decent clip. If the right situation arose, he could be used off the bench or when an injuries attack some of the regulars for Boston. It has now turned into a game of patients as he needs waits for another chance to show that he belongs.

It seemed like this was as good of time as any for the Twins and Valencia to part ways. The message from the clubhouse was that Valencia seemed a little too confident for a player that hadn't really proved himself to be a consistent player. A trip back to the minors didn't seem to shock Valencia into playing at a higher level so maybe being sent to a new team will wake up his senses. If he wants to continue to be a professional player, he needs to lose some of the attitude and start producing on the field. But based on his age and his past performance, the best days of Mr. Valencia might be in the past. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Valencia got off to a hot start in his rookie season. He finally had another hot streak in July last year. But his numbers the first half of last season would have sent him to the minors if he hadn't had those gaudy numbers to start in 2010.
stretch. And his defense was, at best, adequate.

Of course, Plouffe has the same issue. He clobbered a bunch of home runs to start the year. The question is whether he can sustain anything like that again in the future.

What is interesting is the Twin called up Nishioka, instead of the utility infielder they just received in the Liriano trade. He won't be around long, but there must be a reason they wanted to see him at the major league level again.