SARASOTA, Fla.—Sergio Valenzuela was pitching in the Mexican Pacific League when he got the call from his agent.
“He said the Reds had picked me (in the major league Rule 5 draft),” Valenzuela said. “I was excited to hear it. It’s an opportunity to be in the bigs.”
Yes, it is. The Reds have to keep Valenzuela on their 25-man roster all year or offer him back to the Braves for $25,000, half the cost of picking him.
It’s a good deal for a player like Valenzuela, a 23-year-old righthander who has never pitched above high Class A and was in Rookie ball until last year.
The Reds liked what they saw from Valenzuela in Mexico, where he went 0-2, 3.79. Valenzuela’s numbers were not as impressive during the minor league season: He went 1-3, 7.00 mark in 72 innings between low Class A Rome and high Class A Myrtle Beach, primarily in relief.
But it’s not those numbers that got Valenzuela drafted. It’s the ones on the radar gun. He pitches at 92-94 mph, touching 96. He was 5-foot-10, 170-pounds when the Braves signed him out of Mexico in 2001, and he has grown to 6-foot-4, 215-pounds.
“He’s got a good arm,” pitching coach Dick Pole said. “He’s a lot bigger than I thought. He’s a big, strong kid.”
But Valenzuela will have stiff competition to make the pitching staff. The Reds have a lot of good young arms in the mix. Righthanders Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Josh Roenicke showed better stuff than Valenzuela early in camp. Adding veteran righthander Josh Fogg made the roster tighter.
“We think (Valenzuela) can come in and contribute and eventually develop into a starter for us,” director of pro scouting J. Harrison said.
Roenicke, a a non-roster invitee to big league camp, generated a lot of early buzz. His fastball touches 98. “He’s 25,” general manager Wayne Krivsky said. “But he’s inexperienced as far as pitching.” Roenicke was a 10th-round pick in 2006 and didn’t start pitching until his junior year at UCLA.
Manager Dusty Baker was pleased with the young catchers in camp, Crain Tatum and Ryan Hanigan. “You can’t tell our young catchers from the veteran guys,” he said.