Sunday, November 18, 2007
Top Prospect List: #10 Chris Valaika, ss
Chris Valaika was one of the best stories out of the 2006 Reds draft class, as he had a spectacular professional debut. He's 6'1 tall, 180 lbs, throws right, and bats right.
COLLEGE BALL AND 2006 DRAFT
The Reds drafted Valaika with the 84th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft.
Valaika may have been a steal at that point, his value was likely driven down due to a knee injury that he suffered as a sophomore in college. Valaika was a 1st team Freshman All American at UC Santa Barbara after posting a line of .347/.411/.536/.947. The knee injury limited him to 18 games as a sophomore and a line of .208/.253/.278/.531, which dropped his draft stock a bit. However, Valaika bounced back as a junior, hitting an impressive .335/.372/.529/.901.
In addition, Valaika has a lot of experience playing for Team USA, as he's represented the United States on national youth, junior, and college teams. All in all, Valaika is a very polished prospect.
That was enough to convince the Reds.
Valaika exploded onto the scene when he set a Pioneer League record with a 32-game hitting streak and winning the MVP.
In 2006 at Billings, Valaika hit .324/.387/.520/.907 with a 24/61 BB/K ratio. He managed to hit 8 homers and 22 homers, which points to a bit more power potential in the future.
While his performance was impressive, it is tempered by the fact that he was a college player in the rookie league, so he should perform well. In addition, his 2007 season was a bit of a disappointment.
Valaika started out 2007 at low-A Dayton, where he hit a solid .307/.353/.493/.846 with 10 homers in 300 ABs.
He was then bumped up to high-A Sarasota, where he struggled against more advanced competition. He posted a line of .253/.310/.332/.642 in 217 ABs.
Despite his decline in production after his promotion, Valaika actually improved his BB% improved from Dayton (5.1%) to Sarasota (5.4%) and reduced his strikeout rate from Dayton (21.8%) to Sarasota (17.4%). While that was a positive sign, his BABIP regressed from .376 at Dayton to .306 at Sarasota and his line drive % also decreased from 18% at Dayton to only 12% at Sarasota. So, his hit luck regressed to the mean and his line drive rate dropped as well.
Valaika may have tired down the stretch or just struggled against more advanced competition, but whatever the reason, he'll have to get back on track and square the bat on the ball to get his line drive percentage back up. The higher the percentage of line drives, the higher the percentage of balls in play that will fall in for hits.
While it's understandable that Valaika struggled as he moved up the ladder, as an experienced college player you'd like to see him have decent success until he reaches Double-A, where the competition is much more polished and challenging for college players.
In addition, Valaika's career K/BB ratio is cause for concern, as in three professional seasons he has a 175/54 ratio. Improving his on base skills and his strikeout rate would improve his chances for success at the higher levels.
Valaika may already be on the road back, as after a slow start in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League for the North Shore Honu, Valaika is hitting .306 in his last 10 games. That hot streak brings him up to .269/.319/.398/.717 overall. Hopefully, this a sign of things to come in 2008.
Valaika has a short, compact swing and quick hands that makes him fairly quick to the ball, but he has a few moving pieces in his swing that may leave him susceptible to a good fastball or quality off-speed pitches.
Valaika has a fairly quiet setup, but he begins with his hands in front of his right shoulder, moving them back to the hitting position during the pitcher's windup. In addition, Valaika utilizes a fairly high leg kick as a timing mechanism in his swing.
The hand position in his setup may cause him to be late on good fastballs. As long as he gets his hands back into the hitting position in time, it won't be an issue, but a good fastball reaches the plate faster and leaves less time for Valaika to get his hands into position. It likely won't be a problem, but it bears watching. As for the higher leg kick, that may result in Valaika being out in front of good off-speed pitches.
A high leg kick is a timing mechanism for the swing, but if the hitter is fooled by an off-pitch, then his timing will be off because his leg kick started too soon. However, Valaika does have good pitch recognition, which will help him avoid problems with the higher leg kick.
Overall, Valaika has solid offensive skills that should translate fairly well at the upper levels.
You can access the link to Valaika's MLB draft scouting video here.
Valaika's speed is below average, which hinders his range and may ultimately force him to the other side of the second base. However, he's got good footwork which enables him to get into good fielding position and he has good hands to vacuum up groundballs. Valaika also has a strong, accurate arm that should play well just about anywhere.
Ultimately, his range, which couldn't have been helped by his knee injury, may relegate him to second base, but he could be a solid, offensive second baseman.
Despite his late season fade, Valaika is still an intriguing prospect. As of now, it's impossible to tell if his late season struggles were nothing more than a bump in the road or rather indicative of problems to come. Next year will provide another data point and reveal a lot about Valaika's future. In 2008, he could rebound, putting him back on track as a potential starter at the MLB level or just continue his slide into a potential future as utility man.
For now, his polished skill set and good hitting skills land him at #10 on the list.