Valera Doing It All

Valera has gotten on 55 times in 29 games so far

TAMPA, FL - Junior Valera is making a name for himself in his debut season in the United States as a strong leadoff hitter in the Gulf Coast League. Coming off his very first Spring Training States-side, Valera is using his time in the league to create consistency and develop a multitude of skills, and the results have shown.

He has gotten off to a strong start this year, hitting .340 with a .918 OPS through his first 29 games in the United States, thanks in large part to drawing 19 walks already. Throw in 12 stolen bases and there is a lot to like about his season so far.

For his coach and manager, Valera’s season has maintained because of his ability to play smart as well as his overall speed and hitting ability. He works to outsmart the pitchers and opposing team with his switch-hitting.

“I have had him probably the last month but I’ve been impressed,” hitting coach Drew Henson said. “As a leadoff hitter, he understands what that role is. He swings at good pitches, he gets on base, he’s a switch-hitter obviously and he is really fast.

“He mixes in some bunts, he works the middle of the field as well the three-four hole, and five-six holes, trying to shoot the ball that way. He’s done a great job for us, getting on base and setting the table.”

Valera has done his best to remain positive throughout both his Extended Spring Training experience and his time so far in the Gulf Coast League. His plan has to remain focused in order to improve his overall game, recognizing each aspect of his time on the field can be worked on.

“I have gotten better at handling the speed of the game, and making it my own speed,” Valera said through the help of a translator, "making it to where I am in control of what I am doing. I feel like I have gotten better with my bunting, putting bunts down and running bases. My job is for me to get on base, so I feel like I am getting better at that.”

For Pat Osborn, a manager in his first year with the Yankee organization, Valera has made an impression with his positive attitude and his overall ability. Not only is Valera a good teammate, but his statistics are also as strong as can be expected for a new face.

“I think he has been doing a great job,” Osborn said. “If you look at the stats, he is leading our team in hitting – he is a sparkplug at the top of the lineup. He seems like he is always on base, and when he gets on base he makes things happen. He is doing a great job, both offensively and defensively.”

Offensively, Valera has proven himself to be an asset. They have been working on his balance and getting good swings at bat. Experience has been the most important learning tool, and Valera has worked to make all experiences at bat worthwhile.

“I think he puts pressure on the defense,” Henson said. “From that spot, whether he is hitting at the top or towards the bottom, he can run and he is a switch-hitter.

“He does not hit the ball in the air a whole lot, so his contacts are line drives and hard ground balls. He causes infielders to rush and once he gets on base, he can steal a bag or two as well.”

Though Valera’s hitting ability is without a doubt one of the strongest in the lineup, there is one specific area of game that his manager would like to see worked on more throughout the remainder of the season.

“He is getting better, but his defense needs to continue to improve and his ability to steal bases. Right now he can get away with it because he is a plus runner, but working on getting better jumps. Those two things for me, have stood out in areas for him as areas he can improve on,” Osborn opined.

As with a majority of the new players, the concern is to develop consistency and stay healthy. Even a minor injury at this point can set back a player, according to coach Henson. The new level of ball playing is more intense, but for Valera it has been a welcome hardship.

“I came with the mentality of knowing that this was going to be a harder experience than the Dominican Republic,” Valera said, "already knowing that the pitchers were going to be more advanced, that they were going to throw more breaking pitches and things like that. But the overall experience of being in the United States, my focus was baseball coming in and that what has stayed.”

Valera thinks of himself as a team player, developing himself every day to back up his team on the field.

“He is the type of player that the more you watch him, and the more you are around him, the more you like him,” Osborn said. “He works hard, he has a great personality and he is a great teammate. His ability speaks for itself, you look at his numbers and the kid is a good player.”

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