This is a good time to be an outfielder in the Indians’ minor league system.
That’s because Cleveland outfielders hit just .194/.270/.300 with a major league-worst 11 home runs in 2020.
The club tried to address its need for an outfield bat in its eight-player Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres, which brought outfielder/first baseman Josh Naylor to Cleveland. But the 23-year-old lefthanded hitter didn’t add much to the mix, slashing .230/.277/.279 in 22 games.
The best outfield bat in the Indians’ minor league system is George Valera, a 19-year-old lefthanded hitter who is probably still a couple years away but, club officials hope, is worth the wait.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.3 million in 2017, Valera whet the Indians’ appetite in 2018 with a strong six-game cameo in the Rookie-level Arizona League before a broken hamate bone in his right hand ended his season.
Valera ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2019. He hit just .236 in 46 games, but almost half his hits went for extra bases and his eight home runs ranked seventh in the league.
Valera spent 2020 at the Indians’ alternate training site.
“We are excited about Valera and his progress,” Indians vice president of player development James Harris said. “In a weird way, I think being at the alternate site accelerated his development because he was able to face advanced pitchers, and a few major league guys.”
The majority of Valera’s starts have come in center field and right field.
“Defensively at the alternate site, he was able to learn from (major leaguers) Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin and Daniel Johnson, while getting one-on-one instruction from (outfield instructor) JT Maguire,” Harris said.
Valera was one of six outfielders assigned to the club’s instructional league in Goodyear, Ariz.
“With our inability to play full games at (the alternate site in 2020), we hope to get George game decision-making experience and pressure environment exposure in the instructional league,” said Harris.