Padres Prospect #45: Fernando Valenzuela Jr.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr. was the mark of consistency for the Lake Elsinore Storm in 2005. His average hovered above .300 for nearly the entire summer – and only a late season slide brought his numbers down.

It wasn't until August 23 – in his 119th game that Fernando Valenzuela Jr. saw his average dip below the .300 mark of excellence, precipitated by an August that saw him hit .207.

"August was a bad month," Valenzuela admitted. I had a couple games where I climbed back up and then it dropped off. Maybe I pushed a little too much and should have calmed down. My body was a little worn down. I can honestly say I felt a little tired."

But in the first four months of the year he carried averages of .340, .333, .276, and .321 over April, May, June, and July, respectively.

"The best hitter in my eyes honestly was Fernando," pitcher Sean Thompson said. "Even though MJ was having an awesome year, Nando is just that guy. He may not have Nady power, but he obviously had enough power to hit tons of doubles and several homeruns. His average is always there, and he just seemed to come up big in big situations. Not that the others didn't, it just seemed like every time I was biting my nails in a situation that called for it, Nando ended the process of me nubbing out my fingers."

A tenth round draft pick in 2003, Valenzuela has seen his power numbers escalate each year. While he notched 36 extra base hits a year ago, he improved to 44 extra base hits this year, including career-highs in doubles, 28, triples, four, and homers, 12.

For the second year in a row, he led his team in RBI's and continued to show patience at the dish with 56 walks in 133 games.

"As long as I keep driving in runs, I don't worry about power," Valenzuela reminded. "It will come."

"To his credit, he hit for average and drove in the most runs on the squad," Bill Bryk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator, said.

His .363 on base percentage was indicative of his ability to work the count but he was more aggressive at the plate than in years past. Instead of losing out on opportunities, he tried to be more active in driving in runs. The results were sporadic. While he knocked in 83, his average dipped to .270 with runners in scoring position, 26 points lower than his batting average.

A left-handed bat, Valenzuela had some areas of concern. While he swatted .346 at home in the Diamond of Lake Elsinore, he hit just .246 on the road. The California League boasts some of the best hitting parks in the league with Lake Elsinore, oddly enough ranked just above the middle of the pack. Three stadiums are termed launching pads – but Valenzuela struggled away from the comforts of home.

His four triples are also deceiving. He does not possess an abundance of speed and is considered a below average runner with the three-baggers courtesy of outfielders diving for balls. The first baseman grounded into 17 double plays this year to bring his two-year total to 35.

Speaking of being grounded, Valenzuela is stuck at first base as he lacks the athleticism to play any other position on the field. And he may not be good enough for regular duty at first base. He has trouble pivoting at the base and is slow to react to the ball on contact. He split time with Michael Johnson at first base with Johnson getting the majority of the fielding assignments when healthy.

Valenzuela will need to redefine himself and more precisely his body this offseason, especially with the Southern League looming ahead. Days in the gloom will wear his body down and he already succumbed to fatigue in August this year. A new regimen that stresses endurance and strength training will be vital to his long-term success. Valenzuela had never played winter ball before and it may be a nice compliment to his off-season.

Scouts from other teams have pointed out that Valenzuela feasts on off-speed pitches and does not have the bat speed to catch up with a major league fastball.

"He loads up on the off-speed," one NL scout said. "That is how he hits for average. He does not hit the average major league fastball. I don't see him as a major league prospect because he will struggle hitting the rocket."

The California native doesn't quite have the power many think of when associated a player with a first baseman. It has always been a gimme that he would hit, but a first baseman that slices singles and clogs up the basepaths is seldom welcome around the league. The 2006 season could be the one that makes or breaks his prospect standing. Many believe he will stall at the upper levels and unless he dedicates himself this off-season it may bear a semblance of truth.

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