The Memphis Redbirds had players make an impact all over the field during the 2016 Pacific Coast League season, yet none of the four top candidates for Player of the Year opened the season with the Cardinals' top minor league affiliate.
Outfielder/first baseman David Washington led the team in home runs (25) and RBI (62) and was the club’s top slugger the minute he stepped to the plate for the first time as a Redbird in early May. Two minor league veterans, outfielder Jose Martinez and first baseman Efren Navarro, were added during the season and made an impression in Memphis’ lineup. However, one player was an especially consistent weapon on offense: second baseman Breyvic Valera.
Valera, who appeared in only 73 games for the Redbirds, posted team-highs in batting average (.341) and OBP (.417). With more plate appearances, the infielder would have placed among the top three players in the Pacific Coast League in those categories. Valera also had an impressive 31 walks to 22 strikeouts in his 217 at bats.
The 24-year-old started the season in Double-A Springfield, where he slashed an unexciting .258/.289/.298 with 12 RBI, and had 18 strikeouts against just three walks.
The infielder debuted for the Redbirds June 6 at Iowa after Alex Mejia was injured and went 4-for-6 with one RBI over his first four games with the club. Following a second stint in Springfield that lasted three games, Valera returned to Memphis on June 17 when Patrick Wisdom went on the disabled list.
The second time up, the Venezuelan struggled with the Redbirds, failing to produce a hit in nine of his first 17 games. However, Valera’s batting average never dipped below .270 during the season and, out of his 73 games, failed to reach base in only 19 contests.
When outfielder Charlie Tilson was traded to the White Sox on July 31, Valera was considered a leadoff option for the club and, when given the opportunity, excelled. He started the month of August with a 10-game hit streak and ended the month with a .343 AVG, .407 OBP, 12 runs scored and 15 RBI.
Valera also had great value defensively for manager Mike Shildt, making appearances at shortstop (15 games), third base (21 games) and the outfield (five games) in addition to his regular home at second base (32 games).
Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this December, Valera’s future with the Cardinals organization may depend on whether he is added to the 40-man roster this fall. It remains to be seen if the resurgence this season with Memphis was enough to put the former top-15 prospect in the system back on the map.
Let’s look into the results of the other players considered for this year’s award.
After Washington was called up from Springfield, he led the Redbirds in home runs (25) and RBI (62). Washington was a weapon at the plate, posting a .528 slugging percentage. However, he had just 17 doubles and led the team in strikeouts with 142 (nearly 40 more than the next player). Washington’s strikeout rate of 35.4 percent underlined his reputation as a feast or famine hitter.
Navarro was added from the Mexican League in July to provide some offensive firepower. The first baseman slashed .320/.366/.376 in 54 with two home runs and 17 RBI in 54 games and had two separate 11-game hitting streaks. However, the infielder did not suit up in enough games for the club to be seriously considered.
Martinez was acquired from Kansas City and was more productive, plating 42 runners in 87 games for the Redbirds. That total was second only to Washington. However, the Memphis slash line of the league’s reigning batting champion from 2015 of .269/.326/.415 was not enough for him to take home this award. The only one of these candidates with a spot on St. Louis’ 40-man roster, the 27-year-old did impress in his September big-league debut.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation’s Memphis Redbirds Position Player of the Year, Breyvic Valera.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the system-wide Rookies, Pitchers and Players of the Year.
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