The scouting reports on Danny Valencia stayed pretty consistent from when he was drafted in 2006 to when he made his major league debut in the middle of the 2010 season: He does most things well enough, but without a standout tool, he’s probably more of an organizational piece than a potential star. When he came up in early June of 2010, he threw aside those labels, played strong defense, and hit pretty much everything that got close, putting up a .311/.351/.448 line with 7 HR in 85 games. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting and looked primed for a solid run as the Twins’ third baseman of choice for the foreseeable future. His BABIP was a little on the high side, but it isn’t as though his .345 mark was so inflated that his whole line was a lie. His BABIP did regress in 2011, but it did so as part of a sophomore slump so deep that it nearly exhausts the term, and that’s what has earned him a spot in this series.
Unlike predecessors in this space like Jose Tabata, Phil Hughes, and Brian Matusz, Valencia was healthy last year, which made him a marked aberration on a Twins team that saw nearly every other starter hit the disabled list at least once. He was the only Twin to play more than 140 games, and while that’s more useful to his actual squad than to most fantasy teams, having player who starts every day come hell or high water is always nice for fantasy owners as well. Disappointingly, Valencia didn’t add much value despite his ample opportunity, as he hit just .246/.294/.383 with 15 HR in over 600 PAs.
That line fits perfectly in the scouting report: it’s ok, but there isn’t any part of it that makes him standout. Oddly, however, it’s totally out of step with his actual minor league numbers. Prior to 2011, he had never had a full season OPS under .800 and never had a batting average under .285, so while some regression from his 2010 high was likely, dropping as low as he did was unexpected to say the least.
The most worrisome thing from his 2011, however, was not the overall cratering — I expect that 2012 will settle somewhere between his 2011 and 2010 levels — but rather the jump in his strikeout rate. Valencia saw his rate rise by 2.5 percent, which wouldn’t be so bad if his baseline wasn’t a little high to begin with. A 17 percent K-rate is survivable, but with it came an increased O-Swing rate and a decreased Contact rate; put more simply, Valencia was taking himself out of a lot of at-bats by swinging at pitches he couldn’t hit effectively and whiffing at the ones he could hit. Somewhat counter-intuitively, if the rest of the team had played better, I’d be more worried about Valencia playing poorly, but when the weight of the team was more or less on his shoulders for much of the season, there’s a non-zero chance that his issues stemmed from pressing. There’s a small chance this process repeats itself again next year, but he should have more help carrying the offense than he did in 2011, and that should allow him to relax more at the plate.
Valencia is a workable AL-only option, a nice pull for a CI or 3B spot late in the draft because of his RBI potential and virtually impregnable lock on playing time again in 2012. Really deep mixed league players may also see Valencia in a similar light, but shallower mixed leagues may find Valencia’s upside too limited, as he isn’t a good bet to hit .300 or more than 20 home runs. ZiPS projection for Valencia — .260/.305/.392 with 12 HR — strikes me as a little low, but that’s closer to Valencia’s likely numbers than a repeat of his excellent 2010.
The good news is that Valencia is pretty reliable as young third baseman go and he plays a position that’s getting shallower by the year, which is a bonus. Medium-deep mixed players may benefit most from grabbing Valencia late if they’ve taken on a lot of risk elsewhere in the draft. He may not be the most exciting player, but he’s been stable so far and he won’t stay in the depths of his slump forever.
Print This Post