San Francisco Giants
Position: RHP Height: 6-3 Weight: 170 Born: 11/10/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Atlanta Braves originally signed Merkin Valdez. The Dominican inked his contract under the name Manuel Mateo, and broke through with an excellent 2002 season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He was traded to the Giants as part of the Russ Ortiz trade last winter. Afterward, it was revealed that his real name was Merkin Valdez, and that he was almost a year older than previously thought. Still, the Giants were glad to get him in the deal, especially after his excellent 2003 season in the South Atlantic League. With the graduation of guys like Jerome Williams and Jesse Foppert to the Show, Valdez is now San Francisco's best prospect.
Tall and lanky, Valdez generates good heat, getting his fastball to 93-94 mph, occasionally a bit higher. The pitch moves well, and hitters have a hard time getting a good read on it. He locates it well in the strike zone. Valdez' second pitch is a slider, which is overpowering when thrown correctly. Sometimes it gets sloppy, and looks more like a curveball or slurve. On his best days, he has very good command of both the fastball and slider. His changeup is mediocre at this point, and will have to be improved for him to thrive at higher levels.
Valdez has the physicality to be a durable pitcher, but he needs to keep his mechanics consistent. Scouts say he overthrows at times, but that is common for his age, and not a critical flaw considering his experience level. He has good mound presence, with emotional maturity and an aggressive attitude towards hitters.
Statistically, everything looks great for Valdez. His K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP ratios were all excellent last year. The K/IP and H/IP are objective indicators of his good stuff, and his K/BB shows he has a good measure of command to go with it. The stats confirm what the scouts say; indeed, the numbers are actually a bit more positive than some of the scouting reports, for the "overthrowing" problem doesn't show up in the numbers, at least in any detectable way. His walk rate was fine. Of course, gaudy numbers in the Sally League are not a guarantee of future success, but it certainly helps.
Valdez has had no major injuries, a tender groin muscle being his biggest problem in 2003. He's reasonably efficient for a young power pitcher, which will help him stay healthy, provided his workload is kept to a reasonable level. There are never any warranties, of course, when it comes to young moundsmen. I write that about every young pitcher it seems, but that doesn't change the fact that it is true.
What to expect
There are rumors that Valdez will be given a chance to make the major league roster in spring training, as a reliever. He certainly has the ability to thrive in that role, where his lack of a consistent changeup would be less of a problem. But even in the bullpen, it's a big jump from the South Atlantic League to the National League. Valdez is at least a year away as a starter, but if he does move to relief, he could contribute very quickly.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be released by the end of January by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.