Valencia is considered to be the "complete package" at third base, combining a good bat with outstanding defensive abilities to a position which the Twins lack depth. The Twins have been priming Valencia to be ready to take over third base for the 2010 season, and with his promotion to Triple-A, that certainly seems to be what the Twins are aiming for.
Joe Crede signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Twins at the beginning of spring training, giving the Twins one year of quality play at third base, something the ball club hasn't seen in the past few years.
Although Crede's signing was full of questions, one thing that was seemed to be a certainty was that it was only a one-year deal, with seemingly no possibility of any extension after the season. Crede would benefit by proving to other teams that he was healthy, while the Twins would benefit by signing him to a low-risk, high-reward contract and filling the third base void for a year until another player could step forward and claim the position.
The Twins really had two options at third base, Luke Hughes and Valencia. Hughes abruptly emerged onto the Top Prospect ranks with an outstanding 2008 campaign where his slash line was .309/.369/.524 with 44 extra-base hits including 18 home runs while splitting time between New Britain and Rochester.
Unfortunately, his defense could not follow suit and after given full reign at third base in Rochester, he never played good defense well enough to even be considered a possibility to handle the position at the major league level, leaving Valencia as the only real possibility.
Thankfully, Valencia's defense has been great, despite a fair amount of errors at each level. Still, Valencia is a "true" third baseman, while Hughes' true position is still unknown as he's had his fair share of troubles while playing each position. He seems destined to be a corner outfielder in my mind, while I have little doubts over Valencia's ability to handle the hot corner. I've only seen Valencia play one time (on milb.tv), but he looked natural at that position, as cliché as it may sound.
Valencia began the '09 campaign hitting .269/.395/.463 through April before crushing the ball in May with a .373/.443/.667 hitting line. He made one adjustment in his swing, allowing him to hit the ball off the ground a bit more, which resulted in 15 percent less ground balls, 9 percent more line drives and 10 percent less infield fly-balls. It also helped him hit twice as many home runs as the previous month.
However, the success didn't continue as he had a terrible start in June, hitting .115 until last week. Then, all of a sudden, something started clicking again and Valencia quickly broke out of his 6-for-51 slump and was 10 for his last 24 with two doubles and a home run before his promotion.
Although the Twins are looking at the big picture, Valencia breaking out of that slump showed great things in his character which finally resulted in his promotion. Hard work goes a long way, and the Twins want to see players work hard for a long time and not to just be a "flash in the pan."
Valencia will now be the everyday third baseman in Rochester, where the Red Wings could certainly use the help with the Twins tapping into the Triple-A depth (or lack thereof) early and often this season. Valencia will join Steven Tolleson as the second Rock Cat infielder to make the jump from Double-A to Triple-A, and they may not be the last.
Brian Dinkelman has been Valencia's teammate in each level throughout their professional careers, generally being called-up at the same time. Dinkelman has also had a good '09 season, but unlike Valencia, he has yet to get out of his June slump. But I'm sure as soon as he does, he'll join Valencia in what's expected to be a very crowded, yet talented Rochester infield.
Another move I wouldn't be surprised to see the Twins make is the promotion of Whit Robbins, who's having an outstanding season in Double-A, while releasing either Brock Peterson or Matt Macri. Macri currently holds a spot on the 40-man roster, whereas Valencia does not.
Although Valencia doesn't figure to make it to the big leagues anytime this summer, other players such as Juan Morillo, Rob Delaney, David Winfree, or even Kevin Mulvey do seem to be possible call-ups this summer and could certainly use a spot on the 40-man while Macri probably won't make it back to the Majors with the Twins.
Twins General Manager Bill Smith is currently in Rochester watching and evaluating the Red Wings. This move was probably related and allowed Valencia to make a great impression. It could also make other moves more likely as Smith gets a better look at a team three games under .500.
There may be many moves in the next few days, but none may be as big as this.