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Monday, March 12, 2012

Which Danny Valencia will Show Up in 2012?

The Twins had some encouraging Spring Training results over the weekend. I realize that Spring Training games don't count for anything -- they are, in fact, for "training." That's why you see guys taking a lot of pitches, just trying to get their timing down, or you might see a pitcher throw a curveball five times in a row. These guys are trying to get ready for the season, not trying to set Grapefruit League records. But still, tangible results are always nice, and Danny Valencia had a good weekend. Valencia hit two home runs and a double in two games. In those two games combined, he was 3-for-6 with 4 runs batted in. And it wasn't just that he was hitting the ball; he was hitting it hard and far, judging from the replays. At the very least, it's nice to see him locked in this early in the season. I hope he keeps it up!

I bet you didn't
know that Valencia
attended the
U of Miami

In 2010, of course, Valencia impressed most of us, with a .311/.351/.448 slash line in 85 games after a mid-season call up. He was also third in rookie of the year voting. 2011 wasn't so great. In what could be described as a textbook sophomore slump, Valencia regressed to .246/.294/.383. Though he was healthy the entire season, which in and of itself was "highlight-worthy" for the 2011 Twins, Valencia did not impress. He defense was not reliable (he had the second most errors at third base), he did not consistently take good at-bats, and he came off as arrogant in the press.

Quite frankly, I don't care at all that Valencia went to the University of Miami, and I suspect that his teammates, manager and coaches don't either. I can absolutely see how, over the course of a 162 game season, Valencia rubbed some in the Twins' organization the wrong way. But still, it's fair to note that Valencia was at least healthy and on the field, even if he wasn't fantastic. Last year, Ron Gardenhire was quick to throw Valencia under the bus, when sometimes there were other parties that were equally, if not more, guilty of bad baseball transgressions. For whatever reason, Valencia was often in the doghouse. At that time, I suggested that Gardy lay off of Valencia (publicly, at least). Looking back, however, maybe Valencia needed to be taken down a couple pegs in the press, even if he didn't always deserve it. I seriously doubt that Valencia feels less full of himself now than he did last year, but perhaps his second full season will bring greater maturity. After all, he's not young -- 27 this season -- and he's been in the show for about 18 months now. And after the departure of several veterans in the past few months, he's starting to climb the Twins' seniority ladder.

For 2012, I don't know that we can expect Valencia to be a .300 hitter. After last season, .275 would look pretty good in comparison. And, to be honest, if Miguel Sano keeps maturing into the ballplayer that everyone expects him to become, Valencia's time at third base is probably limited to the next 2-3 seasons. Sure, Valencia developing into a complete ballplayer would be fantastic, and I would never suggest that having talented players on the field is bad, but Valencia was never a blue chip prospect to begin with: he never even hit .300 in AA or AAA. But I hope that Valenica shows a little more maturity this year, that he stays out of the doghouse (whether deserved or undeserved), and that the reported hard work he has been putting in this offseason pays dividends. It's funny -- for as much as people (especially bloggers, myself included) talk about Mauer, Morneau, Liriano and Span -- Valencia could be just as important a cog if he put together a great season. He'll likely never be a 40 home run per year guy, but he has shown flashes of greatness, as well as the ability to hit in the clutch. He certainly has talked the talk, maybe in 2012 he will walk the walk. I'd be content with a .275/.350/.445 season out of Valencia, accompanied by stable defense.

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