Breakout Candidate: Alexander Valdez, IF

After a rough first half, the 2007 Kane County Cougars made a second-half push for a playoff spot, coming up just short. One of the keys to the Cougars' second-half resurgence was the offensive performance of Alexander Valdez, who was one of the Midwest League's top hitters down-the-stretch. Is Valdez primed to parlay his strong finish into a breakthrough 2008 campaign? We take a look inside.

Vital Statistics
Name: Alexander Valdez
DOB: 09/02/84
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 160
B/T: B/R

After three seasons playing for short-season affiliates, Valdez finally got a crack at playing for a full-season team in 2007. The Dominican native, fresh off of a strong 2006 season with the Vancouver Canadians, made the Kane County roster on Opening Day and wound-up appearing in 111 games for the Cougars. He would finish the year with a .264 average with 10 homers, 60 RBI and a 752 OPS.

The switch-hitter got off to a fast start in April and for much of that month was the only Cougars' hitter finding any success at the plate. He hit .306 in April with a 780 OPS. Valdez fell off dramatically in May, however, as he batted only .219 with two homers. He would continue to struggle in June (.239 BA) and July (.204 BA).

Valdez made a dramatic turnaround in August, however. He appeared in a season-high 30 games during the month and hit a blistering .310 with 19 extra-base hits, 23 RBI and a 919 OPS in 116 at-bats. He continued that production into September, when he had six hits in 16 at-bats (including two homers) in the final games of the season.

That strong finish gave Valdez the highest slugging percentage of any Cougars' player at .431. He finished first on the team in doubles (24), triples (six) and extra-base hits (40) and tied for second on the team in homeruns and RBIs.

Defensively, Valdez made himself a valuable asset by playing all over the infield. He appeared in more than 20 games at three different positions (second, third and short). Third base was his primary position, as he logged 62 games at the position. He committed 24 errors, however, most on the team.

In 2007, Valdez, who is a switch-hitter, was especially impressive as a right-handed hitter. In 139 at-bats versus southpaws, Valdez had 20 of his 40 extra-base hits and a .540 SLG. As a left-handed hitter, Valdez hit for roughly the same batting average that he did as a right-hander (.264 versus .266), but his slugging percentage fell to .372. Valdez was much better at home at Elfstrom Stadium (867 OPS) than he was on the road (634 OPS). He also hit much better during the day (973 OPS) than at night (687 OPS).

Valdez has an intriguing package of tools. He is a switch-hitter with good power and above-average speed. In the field, he has a strong arm and quick feet. While some of those tools, especially defensively, remain raw, Valdez appears to be starting to put the whole package together. He needs to improve his pitch recognition, as a better eye could elevate his offensive production dramatically. His defensive versatility means that he should be able to move up through the A's system without being blocked by any particular player.

In 2008, Valdez will likely be sent to High-A Stockton, where his offensive numbers should see a significant boost as he goes from a pitcher's league in the Midwest League to a hitter's league in the California League. Given the A's lack of premier infield prospects in the upper levels of their system, Valdez could raise his profile in the A's system quickly.

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