Name: Rolando Valdez
DOB: January 8, 1986
Valdez went 7-2 with a 1.03 ERA over 13 games for the Dominican Summer League Padres. In 87 innings he allowed a mere 55 hits, walked 10 and struck out 104.
He was ready for stateside action and at 20-years old, skipped over rookie ball and went to the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League.
He made 27 appearances for the Ems, going 7-1 with a 2.70 ERA along with two saves. He also limited the opposition to a .218 average.
"Ro, tied for second in the league in wins, did a tremendous job for us – the first time he is pitching in the United States," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He is a converted outfielder who has only been pitching two or three years."
After allowing four runs over his first two outings, Valdez limited the opposition to three runs over his next 17, going 6-0 with two saves during that span – 22.1 innings.
Valdez made one start for Triple-A Portland and while his ERA showed a 6.75 mark, he threw shutout ball over the first four frames, allowing two baserunners on walks. In the fifth inning, he gave up two singles and a walk to open the frame before being removed – all three runs would score.
His four appearances in High-A Lake Elsinore resulted in six runs crossing the dish over four innings of work.
The Mexico native has an advanced feel for the mound and is only touching the surface of his abilities.
"He is a good athlete," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith began. "He is a guy that knows how to pitch and has a very good changeup. He has great pitchability, particularly for a guy who has only pitched two or three years. He understands what he is trying to do."
He has a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch 94 MPH. He also has a plus changeup – meeting the criteria of having the two pitches the Padres emphasize the most.
"At times shows a plus changeup, average curveball, good fastball," Whitehurst explained. "He started off having some control issues but cleaned that up and was great for us."
What he was missing was fastball command. Valdez couldn't paint the corners, but the strides he continues to make offer the Padres hope he can and will hit those spots at will.
In fact, the signs are already there.
Valdez walked ten over his first 5.2 innings and walked just nine the rest of the year – spanning 37.2 frames. And just six of the 34 hits he allowed went for extra bases.
The converted outfielder worked hard on his mechanics and was teachable, putting what he learned into application quickly. Whitehurst tweaked his mechanics slightly early in the year and the dividends were immediate.
Valdez was extremely effective against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .194 average. He was able to come inside with his fastball to righties and used a changeup to different parts of the zone to keep them guessing.
He was also stout with runners on base, giving up just 10 hits in 74 at bats, compared to the 24 hits in 82 at bats he yielded with the bases empty.
There was a different focus level for him with runners on base as he bore down and tossed first-pitch strikes to pitch in better counts. With the bases empty, he would toy around with the opposition and try to be too fine, losing some of his aggressiveness in the process.
He sets up hitters well, working off his fastball and throwing the changeup as an out pitch – routinely getting hitters out in front of the ball when he works the inside part of the plate. Batters roll over on the pitch and it often results in weak grounders.
"He has an excellent changeup and a good curveball," said Luany Sanchez, a former catcher in the system. "He throws a lot of strikes."
His fastball also has good movement, tailing away from a right-handed hitter. His ability to spot the pitch, especially towards the end of the year, has the Padres excited.
"Plus fastball, plus changeup, his curveball is a work in progress but it is getting better," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said.
Valdez could use a third offering he trusts. With two plus pitches in the bank, his breaking ball will be a separator and could propel him up the prospect charts. While his current combination is good, the third pitch would allow him to mix his pitches and keep hitters off-balance.
Oh yea, Valdez can hit some too. During pitchers batting practice last year, he homered over the left field fence on the first pitch he saw.
ETA: Valdez turned 21 this January and has plenty of time to evolve. The signs after just two seasons are encouraging and the enthusiasm remains despite having not played in full-season ball. Handling the longer season will be a challenge to his stamina but should he prevail the future appears bright.