There’s no point in burying the lede here: Mexico won the Caribbean Series over the weekend.
The final game saw the Mexican team overtake Puerto Rico 7-1, behind, among other things, the bat of Sebastian Valle. The Phillies catcher hit a grand slam that proved to be the death knell for the Puerto Rican squad. It was an uneventful game from a prospect standpoint, but the production the Mexican team got from Valle this series brings to light the interesting road that some prospects take.
Valle is an intriguing case study in scouting and prospects in general. Once a highly rated prospect within the Phillies system (ranked as high as 10th in 2011), Valle is still a physical specimen, strongly built with a solid base and frame. In batting practice, he still looks like a high-end prospect, showing off the ability to drive the ball with a smooth, easy swing.
But he takes that swing to the game with the effectiveness of Pedro Cerrano.
It’s not as simple as a Hollywood movie in which a batting-practice curveball renders the hitter helpless, but it’s as close to a real-life version as you’ll find. As he moved through the Phillies ranks, Valle’s struggles have increased, most specifically with pitch recognition. Once highly touted based on his above-average power for a catcher, Valle has found it harder and harder to translate that power into production as the competition improved.
Valle had been on the Phillies 40-man roster, but he was removed this offseason and designated for assignment. He cleared waivers and remains in the Phillies organization.
The upside is that Valle is still just 23, should spend the entire 2014 season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and still has better power than most catchers. The problem is that he has the patience of an adolescent teenager. With a career .304 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, Valle essentially draws a walk about once per week. That’s simply not enough, especially from a hitter who strikes out more than 100 times per season.
Because he went unclaimed and because the Phillies’ other catching prospects have taken a step back, Valle’s path to the majors is still relatively unblocked (although that three-year deal for Carlos Ruiz appears to be an obstacle). Games like he had in the Caribbean Series on Sunday will happen for Valle because he’s going to run into his share of home runs if he plays, even at the major-league level. Even with his struggles, he could probably hit 10-15 home runs with regular playing time.
But it’s unlikely that he’ll get that time. Even with that moderate power, Valle would be an offensive black hole. He could still have a shot as a backup catcher because of his power, but at this point, that’s the only tool that has a chance to play at the major-league level.
Sunday, though, wasn’t about his future. It wasn’t about his tools or about his potential. On Sunday, Valle celebrated a victory with his Mexican teammates.
Minor League Update will return when spring training games begin.