Storm Notebook: Valdez to start?

Lake Elsinore, CA-- Hitting coach Shane Spencer has jumped right into his duties, despite a career that just recently ended. There could be a new starter in Lake Elsinore by the All-Star break – Rolando Valdez. Kellen Kulbacki, who injured a hamstring in training camp, is getting close to returning.

  • Nicknamed ‘Roy Hobbs' because he hit so many home runs as a major league rookie and came into the big leagues at 26, Shane Spencer brings a wealth of knowledge to the Lake Elsinore Storm.

    His career spanned 538 games across four teams, and, at 36, Spencer became one of the youngest coaches in the system.

    With a collection of players that are fresh out of college, there is obviously some question about how much respect he can gain in a timely fashion. But Spencer took a dual-approach – he is giving his hitters the attention they deserve while also picking up all the little things that go into doing his new job.

    "I thought I would sit back and watch and learn a little bit, but you get in there and see things that remind you of when you were coming up," Spencer said. "I got into it pretty quick with the hitters. As far as the nuances of the game, I learned a lot. There are a lot of things that go on behind closed doors – I didn't know there was that much detail. I really appreciated it. I needed some help all the way around."

    While his big league time didn't live up to the hype of his first season, when he hit 10 homers, including three grand slams, over his first 67 at-bats, Spencer spent five years with the New York Yankees, winning a World Series.

    He fought through injuries for much of his career, and whenever an opportunity would arise that put him in the starting lineup, another injury would occur.

    While he was known as a power hitter that had his share of strikeouts, Spencer is connecting with young prospects on a different level.

    "You have to be careful with your words," Spencer said of working with his hitters. "I am not trying to change anyone's swing. Now, we get into game situations with the adrenaline going – there is going to be a whole different swing with a lot of these guys.

    "In Spring Training, it was more of getting guys in the right spot to hit. As the season goes on, you get more personal with them as far as technical stuff. Dealing with pitchers and situations – I went over that in Spring Training. It went well with the guys."

    As for the challenges of the job – that came easiest for Spencer. "Throwing batting practice. That is it. I (hit) three guys (this spring)."

  • The Storm rotation is set to begin the year, but there is one member of the squad that could see his role increase at the midpoint – Rolando Valdez.

    Currently slated to work out of the pen, Valdez could be moved into the rotation at some point this year.

    "That is still a possibility with him," pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "We are going to take it easy with him in the first half, giving him one inning here and there. We want to let him rest up because he did throw a lot of innings in winter ball. That is the plan right now, gradually working him in as a starter – but it all depends on these other kids and how quickly they move."

    Valdez' changeup was not nearly as good last year as the year before, but he says he regained the feel for it during winter ball – where he was a starter and tossed nearly 100 innings.

    The right-hander worked 90.1 innings for two teams, posting a 3.69 ERA and striking out 77 after spending last year in relief for Fort Wayne.

    He struggled down the stretch for the Wizards, especially when he was placed in the closer's role.

    "He has some quality pitches, and he just needs to learn how to pitch," Whitehurst said. "He gets frustrated some times and forgets what he is trying to do."

  • Outfielder Kellen Kulbacki noted his hamstring feels a lot better than when he injured it midway through March. Kulbacki had been relegated to light walking and hitting off a tee for more than a week but has returned to regular batting practice.

    He is in Lake Elsinore and is scheduled to work out his hamstrings more extensively on Saturday.

    "He is not far away," manager Carlos Lezcano said. "We will be cautious with him because of the hamstring injury. Saturday will be a big test since he will do a lot of running. I think he is pretty close. He has swung the bat well in batting practice."

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