Name: Jeudy Valdez
DOB: May 5, 1989
After hitting .329 through the first 34 games, Valdez' average took a dive. He went just 8-for-52 over his final 13 games, dropping his average down to .281 for the season.
"Jeudy is still trying to get a feel for what kind of hitter he is," former AZL Padres hitting coach Manny Crespo said. "He is still trying to figure it out. I think so much success early on kind of hindered him. He expected to hit like that the whole season. That just does not happen. There are very few Cedric Hunter's around. If he continues to mature physically and mentally – the best you can do is the best you can do and you can't do much more than that. He pressed a little bit at the end.
The woes continued nearly a month later. Valdez wasn't impressive at all in the Padres fall Instructional League. In fact, he looked fresh out of high school and failed to pick up on many of the things he was being taught.
"He looked so much better during the year in Arizona," Padres former minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said of seeing Valdez in Instructs. "I thought it was a different kid. I said, ‘This can't be the same kid I saw.' He looked terrible in the Instructional League – terrible, offensively and defensively. He lost all of his confidence, was not the same kid we saw during the season, but he is young, he is 18, he has tools. He will bounce back."
"He struggled in the Instructional League," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "The tank was on empty."
While he flashed a steady bat early in the season, driving in runs and using all parts of the field, Valdez crashed mightily down the stretch.
He began leaking forward and becoming more susceptible to off-speed pitches. When the fastballs came, he was late and falling over his own feet trying to break the hex.
Interestingly enough, the dive began when Drew Cumberland arrived and there were some who wondered whether Valdez felt pressure to do more.
For all the flaws, and a lot of those are mechanical, as he adjusts to seeing different pitches and growing comfortable with his own stance and swing, Valdez has life in his bat.
"Jeudy was one of our most talented players," Crespo said. "You can see some longevity and him continuing to play.
"I think his bat didn't surprise me as much because I thought he could hit. He has great bat speed and great power. He has mechanical flaws. He is learning and seeing pitches for the first time – and for the first time seeing better pitching he did well."
The right-handed hitter has the potential to develop home run power. Blessed with a quick stroke through the zone, Valdez should see his extra base hit numbers jump as he makes consistent contact and adds weight to his frame.
"His bat is going to play," said Smith. "He has a live bat and the ball jumps off it. He has the ability to play shortstop, some second base, and I think he will have the power so the outfield is not out of reach either. I think he will play on the infield with some power."
He has a wiry body and is still learning when to take a pitch and when to swing. The Dominican Republic native has a tendency to swing at pitches outside of the zone, often rolling over on balls that hit the outside corner for weak ground outs to the left side of the infield.
Balls that are touching the shoelaces have been a bane for Valdez, as he routinely goes fishing for off-speed pitches that are touching dirt.
"He got tired at the end," Crespo said. "He fell off because he was playing a lot. In that environment, there is nobody who can play everyday and not get tired. For his first year in pro ball, he did really well.
"Coming back next year with confidence after doing well and if he can prolong his strength through the whole year he will do well.
Early in the season, Valdez proved he could catch up to good fastballs and even pull some down the left field line.
Valdez sets up with a wide base to give him balance at the dish but does not step into the pitch with his lower half, forcing his upper to do a lot of the work.
He has an uppercut to his swing that the Padres are trying to level out and his bat head swirls around as he prepares for the pitch, sometimes causing his timing to be late.
There are questions about whether Valdez has the instincts to stick at shortstop. He is not sure-handed defensively. He is stiff with his hands and will boot balls off his glove because he does not watch it into his mitt or cradle the ball as it arrives to give a softer landing.
"He needs a lot of work defensively," former AZL manager and current roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "He played every single day. He probably led the club in at bats and got tired. It is the first time in his life he experienced playing every day and playing with fatigue. I think that wore on his performance late in the season."
He has a strong arm from the hole but often rushes his throws instead of setting his feet and putting his body in good position towards first base.
"He improved significantly in the field," said Crespo. "He started out shaky out there. That comes with age. He is 18 or 19 and his first time here."
Valdez is adept at turning the double play and does not shy away from contact while also displaying solid range to make plays to either side. If he can calm down and learn balance when he throws, shortstop could become the position he settles into.
Valdez has good speed and is a consistent 4.0-4.1 runner to first base. He swiped 11 bags in 14 attempts this past year and is capable of stealing 20-30 bases a year on a consistent basis. He is an aggressive runner that will take an extra base and the decision to try for third is made quickly and without hesitation.
"He has power," Muser began. "He is very quick. The same range as Cumberland with his running speed – he gets down the line at 4.1 consistently. He has very good potential."
ETA: Valdez has a lot of flaws in his game but undeniable athleticism. He can become a very good player with time. Valdez hits the ball hard when he connects and has significant raw power nestled in a body that has yet to reach its full potential. The 2008 season should be a good barometer of how he will fare in the future.
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