After Trades, Sebastian Valle Is Clearly Phillies' Catcher Of The Future
The Phillies haven't been shy about trading prospects for major leaguers. While the the core of the 2008 World Series champions—infielders like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and World Series MVP Cole Hamels—was homegrown, general manager Ruben Amaro has since added to that core mostly via trades.
For example, aces Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were acquired (and in Lee's case traded and later re-signed) in trades with prospects as the main currency. In both deals, a catcher was involved—Lou Marson went to the Indians in 2009 as part of the Lee trade, while Travis d'Arnaud went to the Blue Jays after the '09 season as part of the payment for Halladay.
The trades left Sebastian Valle, signed as a 16-year-old out of Los Mochis, Mexico, for $30,000 in 2006, as the organization's top catching prospect. While Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz, 32, remains a consistent performer in Philadelphia and is signed through 2012 (with a club option for 2013), Valle has put himself on schedule to take over for Ruiz when needed.
The trades have left Valle at the front of the organization's depth chart, and this year's Hunter Pence deal also took two of Valle's Clearwater teammates. Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart were part of the Phillies' prospect package for Pence. That split up Valle and Cosart, a righthander who traveled with Valle in July to Phoenix for the Futures Game.
"He was with me last year in Lakewood and instructional league the year before and then in the GCL my first year. We've kind of gone up the ladder together," Cosart said in July, before he was traded.
"I had a great time (at the Futures Game) and it was an experience that many ballplayers dream of," Valle added through a translator. "It was more special to go with Jarred because I had a lot of confidence in catching Jarred and (we) have had a relationship for a couple of years now."
Catching the likes of Cosart, whose fastball reaches 96 mph regularly, was part of the challenge for Valle this season. He also had to catch righthanders Trevor May—second in the minors in strikeouts with 201—as well as finesse righty Julio Rodriguez and hard throwers Jon Pettibone and Brody Colvin. He's helped the Threshers to a 3.47 team ERA.
Witness For His Defense
Though Valle, 21, is still learning English, Cosart said there is no language barrier when it comes to anything involving catching and calling a game. Cosart added that Valle was working diligently to pick up more English through interaction with English speaking players.
Despite any communication hurdles, Clearwater manager Dusty Wathan sees Valle as a leader on the field.
"Tremendous leadership," Wathan said of Valle's attributes. "I've had him since he was in the Gulf Coast League and extended when I started off in Williamsport. He's really developed into a leader and a guy that really handles a pitching staff behind the plate."
Cosart attests to Valle's ability behind the plate and noted his improved awareness. His defensive stats show better focus, as well as plus arm strength and solid-average catch-and-throw skills. Valle has made just two errors in 2011 (with 11 passed balls), leading the FSL with a .998 fielding percentage, while throwing out 32 percent of basestealers. Last year, he made nine errors (.990 fielding) and threw out 33 percent of basestealers. Cosart also lauded Valle's ability to call a game.
"Leaps and bounds from last year he's improved, a lot less shaking off," Cosart said. "Last year, he was really worried about throwing guys out, so he wanted to call a lot of fastballs. Where this year he's paying attention to situations and counts and (if) we can get a ground ball; maybe a changeup's good and not necessarily worrying about throwing out a runner."
"The defensive side has come a lot further than I think people anticipated, and I think sometimes he doesn't get enough credit for that," said Wathan, a former catcher and son of a former big league catcher. "The offense is what everybody talked about when we originally got him and now I think he's proven that he's going to have a chance to catch in the major leagues. He's just got to prove that he can hit in the major leagues."
Just like his efforts on defense, his work at the plate is starting to pay off. A glance at Valle's power numbers reveals a significant drop in production from his time in the South Atlantic League. In 2010, Valle blasted 16 home runs for Lakewood, but he just hit .255 for the season. This year he was hitting .284/.312/.394 but with only five dingers. He slumped in August to .181, pulling down his overall numbers.
The dip in power is a result of Valle's efforts to move away from being a pull hitter and coach Wathan thinks that he has that ability.
"His focus is to stay in the middle of the field," Wathan said. "We'd like to see him drive the ball to right-center more. He becomes a better hitter when he thinks about driving the ball in the middle of the field and not being just a pull hitter . . . He doesn't have to hit the ball 500 feet; usually 385 will work."
Valle was also working on being more patient and going with pitches. He still loves to see pitches slide to the inside so he can unleash that big pull power, but his raw power hasn't played in games due in part to his impatience. He had just 13 walks and 84 strikeouts in 348 at-bats.
Valle needs time to smooth out his rough edges. Conveniently, the Phillies are in no hurry.