Last night, I headed over to Zebulon, North Carolina to take in a game between the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and Carolina Mudcats. West Tenn features a significant amount of Seattle’s better prospects, including Dustin Ackley, Carlos Triunfel, Alex Liddi, and last night’s starter, Mauricio Robles. Carolina features… not much at all. There were quite a few jokes made about the Mudcats roster over the night, as the Reds Double-A team doesn’t have much talent this year.
However, in the eighth inning, they brought in someone of interest. Baseball America’s Conor Glassey, sitting to my left, informed me that the kid warming up in the bullpen had some serious arm strength from the left side. After Ruben Medina walked the world, the Mudcats brought in Philippe Valiquette to get the final out of the eighth. He didn’t disappoint.
A slender 6’0 lefty, Valiquette came in and started firing 96 and 97 MPH fastballs with relative ease. He got Triunfel to ground out to the second baseman, and the inning was over. Valiquette came back out for the ninth to go through the middle of West Tennessee’s order. This time, he decided not to mess around, and brought out the big guns.
You don’t see legit 100s on the radar gun from the left side very often. It was, to the say the least, an impressive fastball.
The command wasn’t great and the secondary stuff was borderline awful, but the fastball was enough for him to make hitters look foolish. Given the velocity, I figured when I checked his career minor league line upon returning home that he’d be running big strikeout totals at the least. To my surprise, he’s only racked up 245 strikeouts in 311 innings pitched over six minor league seasons, and his second trip through Double-A isn’t going very well this year. The walks aren’t a big surprise, but I was shocked to see that he’s been this ineffective in the low minors with a huge fastball.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sergio Santos and how easy his conversion to pitching has been. Consider Valiquette to be the counter point to my argument that relieving is pretty easy if you have a good arm. There’s no doubting the arm strength that he brings to the mound, but to date, he hasn’t converted it into getting hitters out.
Just 23, there’s still plenty of time for him to figure out how to command his fastball and develop a second pitch to complement it and give hitters a different look, but so far, he’s just all velocity and nothing else.