In order to build a champion, a team needs to develop talent from within. Over the past few years, many have lamented the Mets farm system, and there has been a noticeable lack of talent coming through the system as of late. However, the farm system has improved and there are talented players working their way to Flushing. In this ongoing series, Fresh Kauffy will look at some of the Mets minor league talent. This particular Fresh Apples will look at middle infielder, Jordany Valdespin.
If Jose Reyes signs elsewhere, all signs point to Ruben Tejada being handed the shortstop job, and that is fine. Tejada has played shortstop, is solid defensively, and showed improved offensive skills as the season went on. However, Tejada is not the only youngster in the Mets organization who is capable of playing shortstop. Enter Jordany Valdespin.
The soon to be twenty-four year old from the Dominican Republic was signed as a non-drafted free agent back in 2007. He bats lefty, throws righty, and has played 145 games at shortstop during his minor league career, in addition to 207 at second base and a couple in the outfield (in 2011, he played 98 games at short and 32 at second). After spending ’07 in the Dominican Summer League and ’08 in the Gulf Coast League, Valdespin began to shoot up the ranks. He spent time in DSL and GCL in ’09 before moving on to Brooklyn and Savannah. 2010 was spent mostly in St. Lucie before advancing to Binghamton in August, and 2011 was spent mostly in Binghamton before moving to Buffalo for the season’s final month.
Coming into this season, he ranked #37 on Toby Hyde’s Top Prospect List, as well as #9 on MLB.com’s list of Mets Top Prospects. By the end of the season, Valdespin moved up to the #8 slot on the MLB.com list. By most accounts, Valdespin has a lot of natural talent and athletic ability. Here are some quotes from those in the know:
Mets Director of Minor League Operations Adam Wogan: He’s athletic enough to play shortstop. He’s working on becoming more consistent there and in all phases of the game. He also showed that the hand-eye coordination and bat speed are translating into performance.
Buffalo Bisons Hitting Coach Mike Easler: Biggest key for Jordany is to stay within himself…Terrific bat speed… He’s a gamer. He’s a baseball player. … He’s just a real good ballplayer… He has to learn to play the game hard, not just when he feels like it…We got a jewel right there.
MetsMinorLeagueBlog Writer Toby Hyde: Valdespin is physically gifted, but has clashed with teammates and coaches over the years. Even while displaying exceptional progress, similar issues followed him in 2011, although the volume on such concerns was more muted given his offensive excellence.
There are a few important things that can be taken from those remarks. The first is the consensus that Valdespin has natural talent, and that it may be starting to come together. The second is that he put up very solid numbers this past year (more on that in a little). But the third is that Valdespin might carry some baggage with him in terms of work ethic or getting in his own way. Whether those issues subside as he continues to mature remains to be seen.
But from an offensive standpoint, Valdespin had a strong year. Between Binghamton and Buffalo, he hit .294/.333/.468 with 17 homers, three triples and 37 steals in 55 chances. Most encouraging was the increase in power, considering that Valdespin had never accumulated more than six homers in a full season prior to 2011. Of course, there is still work that Valdespin needs to do. Most critically, he needs to improve his plate discipline. In 554 plate appearances last season, Valdespin drew just 25 walks while striking out 93 times. To be fair, he performed better at Binghamton (21 walks and 68 strikeouts in 441 PA) than at Buffalo (four walks and 25 strikeouts in 113 PA), so the higher strikeout rate at triple-A could be attributed to him adjusting to the new level. Improving upon his career minor league stolen base percentage of 67% would also help.
It’s probably a good bet that Valdespin will reach the Major League level in 2012, probably not until September. Until then, he will likely man shortstop at Buffalo if Reyes departs, or play possibly play second base. He still has a lot of work to do, but Valdespin could provide an interesting alternative to Ruben Tejada and maybe even make a case to be the shortstop of the Mets future if #7 leaves town.