|Photo by Jim Donton|
Danny Valencia seems hell bent on proving everyone wrong.
Drafted in the 19th round back in 2006 despite his impressive productivity for a major college program, the native Floridian signed rather than returning for a senior year, eager to showcase his ability in the pros.
Valencia did just that. He hit .311/.365/.505 during a 48-game debut at rookie-level Elizabethton after signing in '06, and throughout his steady ascent of the minor leagues he never really stopped hitting. Questions occasionally swirled about his plate discipline, his true power potential and his maturity, but through it all Valencia just kept hitting. He never posted a batting average lower than .284 at any level, and every single year after being drafted he showed enough to earn a midseason promotion.
One could certainly argue that last year's promotion -- from Triple-A to the majors -- wasn't earned. Valencia was hitting .292 at the time he was called up, but sported a mediocre .720 OPS and had managed zero home runs in 202 plate appearances.
He was called up out of necessity. Nick Punto had been staggeringly awful at the dish and Ron Gardenhire had resorted to Michael Cuddyer at third. The team was desperate for a legitimate option at the hot corner, but expectations for Valencia were set low.
All he did was hit .311/.351/.448 with seven homers and 40 RBI over 85 games, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote.
The third baseman's determination to prove everyone wrong seems to fit with his personality. Anyone who's spent time around him will tell you the kid is cocky. But that cockiness is not to be confused with arrogance. What Valencia possesses is an amiable self-assuredness, at times brash but rarely pompous. Frankly, it's a trait I wish more Twins players possessed (but, of course, it's one that tends not to mesh well with Gardenhire).
Like any player coming off an out-of-nowhere rookie splash, Valencia is a candidate to regress this season. Depending on your viewpoint, that likelihood may be increased by a rather lofty .345 BABIP last season (though his imperviousness to poor batting averages in the minors would seem to suggest he has a skill).
So far this spring, Valencia has been one of the most impressive players in camp, hitting .393 with a cool 1.095 OPS. If a sophomore slump is supposed to be setting in, no one has apparently informed him as of yet.
Should their newly entrenched third baseman succumb to advanced scouting reports or injury, the Twins would look to either Matt Tolbert or Luke Hughes. But I don't expect that to happen, and I'm sure Valencia would agree.
Predicted 2011 Hitting Line for Valencia: .290/.340/.410, 10 HR, 50 RBI