Hard-Hitting Valbuena Turning Heads in Everett

EVERETT, Wash. - Duplicating past successes can often be a difficult process — especially in professional sports. Get 262 hits in a season and the next year, everyone wants to see 263. Win the World Series 25 times and your fan base expects you to keep on rolling. Precious few are able to stay sharp year after year, but what defines a professional athlete is the willingness to keep trying. AquaSox second baseman, Luis Valbuena, is, if nothing else, a professional athlete.

Valbuena signed with the Mariners this winter after an absolutely stellar year in the Venezuelan Summer League. Only 19 at the time, the young lefty hit .365/.446/.559 in 222 at-bats and led the league in batting average, slugging percentage, hits (81), doubles (25), total bases (124) and was tied for the lead in triples (6). If this sounds to you like an award-winning season, you're absolutely right. Valbuena's efforts and hard work paid off, earning him the league MVP award and a minor league contract with Seattle.

After logging three games with Triple-A Tacoma, Valbuena finds himself with the M's Short Season-A affiliate in Everett and is looking to continue his already decorated level of play.

Pat Dillon, the AquaSox play-by-play announcer and resident personnel guru, weighed in on Valbuena recently and offered a perspective on the promising young prospect's year so far with the club.

"Valbuena is probably the best prospect on the team coming into the season," Dillon said. "Offensively, he swings the bat very well. I think the most impressive thing about him is his ability to draw walks—he's leading the club in base on balls and has more walks than strikeouts. [Manager], Pedro Grifol told me at the beginning of the season that he seems to get a lot of plate coverage with his swing, so his bat stays in the zone longer than other hitters. He has good pop, pretty good speed."

Dillon's analysis is pretty much right on the mark. Though Valbuen's offensive numbers are down somewhat from last season (.264/.378/.472 as of July 20th) he is leading his team in at-bats (106), walks (18), and RBI (20), and is tied in home runs (4) and triples (2). He also has eight stolen bases on the year and is amongst the Northwest League's top 10 in seven offensive categories.

Dillon notes that his numbers may have dipped slightly this year due to the fact that "the jump from Venezuela to the Northwest League is a little bit different," compared to from an American college, for example.

Valbuena's trouble spot so far has been his work in the field, where he has appeared jittery at times.

"Defensively, his foot work around second base could be a little bit better," Dillon said. "But that's something that a player can learn to do better."

Valbuena's four errors are currently the second most on the team, behind Reed Eastley's six.

Nevertheless, the Yoda of the AquaSox universe feels confident in Valbuena's potential and offers a comparison to a former player currently enjoying success with High-A Inland Empire.

"I think of Valbuena in terms of how he stacks up with guys we had last year like Asdrubal Cabrera," said Dillon. "Cabrera certainly is a much more sophisticated defensive player, but hitting-wise they're similar. Valbuena might have some more power; he's a little bit bigger. He's been hot and cold, but he's still getting on base."

Any cold streaks Valbuena has had this year apparently haven't been enough to dash the confidence of Grifol, the man penning the lineup. Valbuena has appeared in 28 of the Sox 29 games this year, and more work can only mean greater improvement for the up-and-coming infielder.

"I don't see why he wouldn't be able to duplicate his success from Venezuela," said Dillon. "He's still a young guy and you can compare him to a guy like Chris Snelling. Snelling came to the Northwest League at 17--Valbuena's a bit older--and had a great season his first year. Then he went to Wisconsin the following year and did even better. Players that can go up the chain and have better years as they proceed are bound to have success. Valbuena hasn't exactly done that yet, but he certainly has the ability to figure it out and get better."

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