Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Oh Danny Boy
Wilson Ramos was called up to the Twins for a few weeks in April. He had four hits in his big league debut and followed it with three more hits the next day. Quite impressive to say the least. Very few in big league history had knocked out seven base hits in their first two big league games. But what Danny Valencia has done in the last four games in incredible. Let’s not forget that since the All-Star break, Valencia started one game at 3B, then Nick Punto started three, then Valencia started three, then Punto started four (I’m not going to look it up, but it was something like that). So, when Valencia started on Saturday night in Baltimore, I thought that it was just his turn. What he has done should nearly cement his role as the Twins third baseman of the future and more important right now, their third baseman of the present. He had three hits on Saturday. He had another three hits on Sunday. He had four hits on Monday night including his first Major League home run, a grand slam off of the Royals’ Zach Greinke. And last night, he managed four more hits. You will want to check out Phil Mackey’s article to see the historical nature of this run that Valencia and the Twins are on.
Many were amazed when the Twins were able to draft Valencia in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. Someone who had done so well at a national powerhouse like the University of Miami should not be available on Day 2 of the draft, much less in the 19th round. But to the credit of the Twins and their scouting department, they made the selection. Since then, Valencia has done nothing but hit all the way up the system. He got off to a slow start this year, no question. The lack of home runs was certainly noteworthy. But as you know, I’m big on minor league track record meaning something, so I believed that the power would come. He has five doubles and a home run among the 14 hits from the last four games.
The Twins did well in the 2006 draft. Jeff Manship was taken in the 14th round out of Notre Dame, and he has already contributed at the big league level. Chris Parmelee was the first round pick that year, and he is on an absolute tear right now at New Britain. 2nd round pick Joe Benson has established himself as one of the team’s best and most exciting prospects. Brian Dinkelman is playing well in Rochester, and he was an 8th round pick. Steve Singleton leads the Twins system in doubles, in AA, and has to be considered an option as a future 2B. And don’t forget that Anthony Slama was the team’s 39th round selection that year (although he went back to the University of San Diego and signed with the Twins before the 2007 draft. And Rob Delaney, who has two saves in two chances (with six strikeouts against six batters faced in those two appearances) since Slama was promoted to the Twins, signed after not being drafted that June. If that kind of success doesn’t scream the need to credit the Twins scouts, I don’t know what does.
Danny Valencia has been great in terms of his willingness to do Q&As. He has made four or five appearances on my podcasts. This is why it’s OK to be a blogger instead of a real journalist. It is OK for me to admit in writing that I am really happy for this success and hope that it continues for Danny, and of course because I’m a big Twins fan.
When I was figuring out a format and story ideas for the Minnesota Twins 2010 Prospect Handbook, I really wanted to have an article called Danny Valencia: On the Cusp. After finishing last year at Rochester, I figured it was just a matter of time before he would be in the big leagues. Valencia answered a lot of questions for me for the article and I think it turned out great.
Below is a small chunk of that article… (To read the rest, and much more, including a Q&A with Jeff Manship, a 2009 draft review with an interview with former Gopher Derek McCallum, and lots of information and stories on the Twins work with international signings including quotes from Tom Stuifbergen, Trevor Plouffe, Liam Hendriks and more… plus over 150 profiles on Twins prospects, click here to order you copy(ies) of the Minnesota Twins 2010 Prospect Handbook).
Danny Valencia was born in September of 1984 in Boca Raton, Florida. He played in many baseball leagues, and was playing on travel teams by the time he was eight years old. After a year at UNC-Greensboro in which he hit .338, Valencia headed back home to play for the University of Miami. As a sophomore, he hit .300/.355/.471. As a junior, he hit .324/.382/.475 with nine home runs.
In a 2007 Seth Speaks.net Q&A, Valencia said, “It was an awesome experience to play for one of the best programs in the country. It was also great to play close to home. I had a great time at Miami, and we are all very close with one another, like family.”
The Twins almost inexplicably were able to draft him in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. Twins Director of Player Personnel Mike Radcliff, who was in charge of the draft at the time, told SethSpeaks.net, “Every year there are some unexplainable draft situations. We are very fortunate to be able to add a player of Danny’s abilities in such a late round. Our scouts Hector Otero and Tim O’Neil deserve credit for staying with their convictions in Danny’s talents and eventual desire to sign a professional contract.”
Valencia was expecting to be drafted much earlier too. “I was surprised not being selected the first day since I had been told I would go earlier. No one is sure why, but some thought I was going back for my senior year, but I really wanted to play pro ball.”
He signed quickly and reported to Elizabethton. In 48 games, he hit .311/.365/.505 with 13 doubles and eight home runs.
Danny Valencia is on the cusp. But he still has areas where he can continue to improve.
After walking a reasonable amount of time throughout his minor league career, Valencia walked just five times in over 280 plate appearances at Triple A. In the spring, he worked a lot with Twins legend Tony Oliva. “Tony is a great guy and constantly would give me pointers on my approach when I’m in the batter’s box. He pretty much told me to take what the pitcher gave me and not try to do too much at the plate. I feel it helped me this year a lot because I walked a bunch in AA. Since being in Triple A, I feel like the pitchers have 5 balls and 2 strikes.”
What about his defense? Remember that he only moved to third base during his college years. He had primarily been a first baseman. When asked about his defense in a SethSpeaks.net interview in August of 2009, Valencia said, “I feel my defense has gotten better every year. I still have work to do and I will continue to work hard at it. Not everyone is Joe Crede. I’d like to be able to play with him so he could give me pointers that would help me be a better third baseman.”
Following the season, Valencia was added to the Twins 40 man roster. “Being added to the roster meant a lot to me. It made me feel like all the hard work and sacrifices I've made throughout my life are paying off, and I'm just thrilled that the Minnesota Twins organization has recognized it as well. It's also nice to have been able to make my family proud with this accomplishment and hopefully many more to come in the future.”
The Twins encouraged Valencia to play winter ball during the offseason, so he spent about a month playing for Indios de Mayaguez. “Playing winter ball in Puerto Rico has been a great experience all around. Aside from the fact that I've been able to work on certain baseball-related things, I feel as if I’ve been able to grow as a person through becoming more accustomed to other people’s ways of life. I have a newfound respect for Latin players and what they have to go through to be able to have a chance to play baseball in the US. Sometimes many people, including myself, forget how lucky we are to have the things we have, and the opportunities we get, being from the United States.”
Valencia will head to big league camp again in 2010. This time, he is on the 40 man roster, and this time, he has been there before. “Going into this spring training, I’m most excited about being able to have the chance to really show our coaches and players that I could be a guy they can count on to help the team in the near future.”
What will it mean to get that final promotion, this one to the big leagues? “Getting the big league promotion would really just be probably one of the best feelings I could ever experience. Seeing my name on the back of our big league uniform really would be surreal. It would all just be a culmination of all the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice my family and I have devoted over the years. It would probably be one of the happiest days of my life.”
Valencia is now a big leaguer, and he has accomplished a ton. I think he has shown great improvement since his promotion less than two months ago and that should only continue as he gets more at bats and learns. But he has already shown that he can be counted on.
Here is a quick glance at what happened on Tuesday in the Twins minor league system:
Red Wings Report
Despite Matt Macri’s 6th home run of the year, a three run blast in the top of the 9th, the Red Wings fell to Gwinett 6-3. Brian Dinkelman was 2-3 with a walk and his 25th double. Matt Fox gave up four runs (3 earned) on seven hits and two walks in five innings. Alex Burnett gave up two runs on three hits in two innings. Pat Neshek then threw a scoreless inning.
New Britain Notes
The Rockcats lost 4-3 to league-leading Trenton. Deolis Guerra gave up four runs (3 earned) on nine hits (including 2 HR) in six innings. Tony Davis got two batters out, and then Carlos Gutierrez came in and got the final four outs. The team managed just six hits, but three of them were doubles. Steve Singleton hit his 32nd. Joe Benson hit his 15th AA double. Juan Portes hit a pinch-hit double, his 13th of the year.
Dan Osterbrock continued to pitch great for the Miracle in the team’s 4-2 win over Dunedin. The lefty gave up two runs on six hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out eight. Michael Allen threw two hitless innings. Dakota Watts pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save. Nathan Hanson went 4-4 with his 12th double. Deibinson Romero hit his fourth and fifth home runs. Angel Morales moved into the leadoff spot and went 2-5.
The Snappers, and everyone else in the Midwest League, had the day off. Brad Stillings was activated from the Disabled List, and Sam Spangler was promoted from Elizabethton.
With an out in the 10th inning, Nate Roberts came up with Daniel Santana on 1B. He hit a walk-off double to give the E-Twins a 3-2 win over Greeneville. Manuel Soliman pitched well again. In 6.2 innings, he gave up two runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck out a very impressive 13 batters. Ryan O’Rourke threw 2.2 scoreless innings. He gave up three walks, walked none and struck out five. Zach See improved to 5-0 out of the E-Twins bullpen by getting the final two outs of the top of the 10th. Brian Burke went 2-3 with a walk and his third home run. Oswaldo Arcia added his 16th double.
GCL Twins Topics
The GCL Twins lost 5-3 with the GCL Orioles. Miguel Sano played SS (committed his 7th error and) went 2-5 with his sixth double. Candido Pimentel was also 2-5. Max Kepler went 2-4. Kennys Vargas hit his third home run. On the other side of the spectrum, it was a tough game for Niko Goodrum. The Twins 2nd round pick went 0-5 with five strikeouts. Cesar Ciurcina gave up four runs (3 earned) on nine hits and a walk in five innings. Bart Carter gave up an unearned run in his inning. Pat Dean threw two shutout innings. He gave up a hit and struck out two.
Any thoughts on the Twins or the minor league system? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.