Top 50 Prospects #1 - Merkin Valdez

Despite reports that are all too numerous that his future is only as a major league reliever, the Giants feel that Merkin Valdez will be a top starter in the majors, and you should to. Take a look and find out why, and what his future hinges on. It's our #1 Prospect!

Date of Birth: 11/10/1981 Position: P Height: 6'3" Weight: 220 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Traded from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz deal in 2003
Originally signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent in 1999
2005 Stats
Norwich - AA 5 6 3.53 24 19 0 107.0 99 48 42 7 45 96 .252 0.94

Expecting to see someone else?  Well, all will be explained tomorrow, but for now, this is about Merkin Valdez.

Valdez sometimes can be one of the most maligned prospects.  There are a significant number of people out there who think his only future is as a reliever, based off of his 2004 conversion and quick call-up in general manager Brian Sabean's self described attempt to catch lightning in a bottle.

Don't believe it.

The Giants see Valdez as a starter now, as if he were to become a reliever for good, the Giants would've done the same thin in 2005 with all the problems (and all the young players) who got shuffled into the bullpen last season.  There is still a small possibility that he could become a bullpen pitcher, but it isn't because of talent (more on that in a second).

Valdez could become much much more than just a starter.  He has a lot of life on his fastball, which hits 96 MPH and can go a little higher when he humps up, and a hard slider that gets better the more he throws it.  He also has a developing changeup that got much better in 2005, and a curveball that's good for little other than showing a different look to a hitter.

Valdez's 2005 was a tale of two seasons, though.  He spent the first half of the year as one of the top pitchers in the Eastern League, carrying a 2.81 ERA into early July.  But in July, his elbow started giving him problems.  His ERA ballooned up to 3.53 as his walk rate rose and his outings got shorter, was moved to relief to take pressure off the elbow, and then he got shut down in August, when an erroneous report of Tommy John surgery began circulating (he did not have any surgery).

The injuries are a legitimate worry, and are the biggest threat to his future as a starter.  He had shoulder soreness in 2004 as well, and has had nagging things around his minor league career, slowing his development.  The Giants are not overly worried about the elbow problem, and expect him to take on a starter's workload again in 2006.

Valdez should be going to AAA, a hitter's league, but his high ceiling remains apparent.  He will always be a good strikeout pitcher, though he needs to improve his control to keep the walks down overall.  He might be a borderline ace prospect, but working with Giants' rookie of the year candidate Matt Cain, he could rise to be a top #2 pitcher in the rotation with his power potential.

But in the meantime, it's up to Valdez to show he can be healthy.  If he can do that in Fresno, he'll find himself back in the big leagues at some point in 2006, and competing for a rotation spot in 2007.

Have any questions about these prospects, or perhaps some we haven't named? will be answering your questions throughout this series! Send your questions to!

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