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On Sunday the Twins made an unusual move: they traded their between-stars “third baseman of the future” Danny Valencia to the Red Sox for prospect Jeremias Pineda. Valencia, a once promising young player at the hot corner, has seen his stock fall. Actually, that’s being too kind: it’s plummeted. How did the third place finisher for AL Rookie of the Year in 2010 end up as Ben Cherington’s first scrapheap project?
Valencia was taken in the 19th round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Miami. The expectations of him as a prospect were modest, but as Valencia progressed through the Twins’ minor-league affiliates, he continued to succeed. After hitting a combined .285/.337.466 between Double and Triple A in 2009, Baseball Prospectus labelled him as “solid across the board” even though he had initially been viewed “as no more than an organizational player.” The hits just kept coming for Valencia and in 2010 he got his shot as the Major League job.
For one season, Valencia more than held his own. He would hit .311/.351/.448 for the Twins that year and pushed aside the more defensively focused Nick Punto on his way to a third place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Excellent hitting combined with solid defense allowed Valencia to hold down the starting job and enter 2011 as a bona fide Major Leaguer.
Unfortunately the fairytale ends here. In 2011 Valencia would run into the ceiling that was predicted when he was drafted. His numbers would collapse to a much less impressive .246/.294/.383 for his sophomore season and would reach a floor of .198/.212/.310 in 2012 before he was returned to the minor leagues after his acquisition by the Red Sox. It all fell apart rather fast for the one-time underdog.
2010 Valencia was aided by a sky-high batting average on balls in play of .345 and while he put up at similar number (.355) in Triple A in 2010 before being promoted, his 2009 BABIP at that level was just .306, while at Double A the mark was .318. When the Major League number returned to something more in line with his career, combined with just 40 walks on the season, Valencia simply didn’t reach base enough. While he still hit 28 doubles and 15 home runs in 2011, by the time of his trade in 2012 his slugging (.310) was lower than his rookie batting average (.311). Valencia’s hitting, while never amazing outside of 2010, was no longer enough to succeed in the Majors without those extra balls falling in for hits.
He has yet to make his PawSox debut, but Valencia has probably joined the team by now. He won’t see much time with Boston now that the Will Middlebrooks era has begun, but if he can get his bat back on track, maybe take some grounders at first base, he could have a future on the bench. Or, you never, know, he could become a valuable trade chip for a team looking for a stopgap at third base who is still somewhat young and cheap.