Triple-digit velocity from a young, unknown pitcher tends to get the attention of professional scouts.
The word about 19-year-old Dominican righthander Samuel Valerio spread quickly during the Royals’ instructional league program in Arizona, and soon there were plenty of eyeballs and radar guns focused on his electric fastball touching as high as 102 mph.
Valerio’s heater sits 96-99 mph with downhill plane, heavy sink and weight in the zone. His power curveball is a downer at 79-81 mph. It is inconsistent but has the makings of a wipeout pitch. His high-80s changeup is a more recent addition and needs separation.
Valerio didn’t have elite velocity when Royals international scouts first laid eyes on him in late 2017. He was sitting around 89-90 mph and touching 93, according to Royals vice president and head of international operations Rene Francisco.
It was Valerio’s arm strength and the potential for a solid breaking pitch that interested them—with one big change that needed to be made.
“When we first saw him, his arm strength was there and the breaking ball was there,” Francisco said, “but he had a really, really high (arm) slot . . . I haven’t seen many guys throw strikes from that slot.”
After signing with the Royals in July 2018 for $242,000, Valerio began working with coordinator Victor Baez and the staff at the Royals’ Dominican academy. Throwing from a lower slot gave him better alignment to the plate, allowing him to repeat his delivery and keep the ball around the zone. Valerio, noted as a hard worker with good makeup, also firmed his body, now listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
After a 2019 season in the Dominican Summer League, Valerio was slated to make his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Instead, he was limited to working out on his own over the summer at a field near his home just outside of Santo Domingo, throwing bullpens and batting practice sessions with friends.
Valerio has the potential to become another intriguing arm in the deep crop of pitching prospects in the Royals’ system.
— Outfielder Seuly Matias was making up for lost time by playing for Cibao of the Dominican League this winter. He blasted two home runs in his first six games, including one to deep straightaway center field at the Santo Domingo ballpark shared by Escogido and Licey.
Matias missed much of the 2019 season at High-A Wilmington with a broken hand and hit just .148 with a 44% strikeout rate when in the lineup. The righthanded slugger was continuing the work he started after that 2019 season and that continued in 2020 at the Royals’ alternate training site and at instructional league at Kauffman Stadium. His focus in selected aggression, according to Rene Francisco.
— The Royals cleared space on the 40-man roster just before the Winter Meetings by non-tendering shortstop Jeison Guzman, outfielder Bubba Starling, righthander Carlos Sanabria and lefthander Foster Griffin. The organization subsequently re-signed all four players to minor league contracts.