Valdez's numbers were not overly impressive in his first season with the Cubs' top minor league affiliates, and he still has a ways to go before offering up anything close to the numbers he posted in the Dominican Summer League. In 2004, Valdez posted a 0.51 ERA in 16 games, including nine starts. He struck out 152 batters in only 87 2/3 innings while surrendering just 38 hits. And if that weren't enough, he walked only eight.
The left-hander's out-pitch is still his curveball, which Iowa broadcaster Deene Ehlis says Valdez used to target right-handed hitters.
"I thought at times his off-speed stuff would have a screwball effect," said Ehlis, a 16-year veteran in the Iowa Cubs' booth, who saw Valdez in all of his 25 outings at Triple-A this past season. "It tailed away from right-handed hitters."
At Iowa, Valdez was 6-7 with a 5.93 ERA, striking out 73 and allowing 39 walks. He won his first four decisions of the year between Iowa and West Tenn despite a plus-four ERA in those starts.
The biggest thing Valdez may have going for him right now is his heart.
"He doesn't throw hard, maybe 85 mph on his best fastball," Ehlis said. "But he wasn't afraid to go after hitters and always seemed to pitch well with men on base."
The biggest weakness for Valdez from Ehlis' standpoint is the lack of velocity. "Having pinpoint command, he always tries to nibble on both sides of the plate," said Ehlis. "If he has that command, he'll get people out. Having his best curveball helped, too."
From Ehlis's view, two pitchers – one past, the other present – remind him of Valdez.
Dave LaPoint, a former left-hander and 14-game winner who pitched for nine major league teams, is one of them. "They both need excellent command in order to be effective," Ehlis notes.
And of the current names on the major league circuit?
"Chris Hammond," Ehlis said. "Like LaPoint, Hammond also has a better changeup than Valdez, but Valdez has the better curve. Both need to change speeds and keep hitters off balance in order to be effective."
Ehlis also says that while Valdez is promising, and only has one season in a new country under his belt, Triple-A might be his peak unless someone helps him develop the changeup as a situational left-hander.
"He's a great story because he's so hungry to get to big leagues after escaping Cuba," Ehlis said. "His intangibles include a good athlete, a good fielder, and someone who could hit and bunt to help himself. He's also one of the all-time best fly-chasers during batting practice."
Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita also cautions folks to be patient with Valdez, a native of La Habana.
Fleita said, "I don't know if you've ever traveled to another country and tried to find your way around, eat new foods, work with people who speak another language, et cetera, but it isn't easy and I tip my hat to Raul. He did a great job. With a season under his belt, let's see what 2006 brings for him."