Throughout the 2016 season, the Cardinals struggled to solidify three out of the four infield positions for extended periods of time. Could 24 year-old Breyvic Valera offer a long-term answer for questions regarding the future of second base in St. Louis?
The Cardinals played several second basemen in 2016, finding little to no consistency through their many trials. Experimenting with Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, and more, the Cardinals will need to pencil in an every day “rock” if they wish to compete with the World Series Champs in Chicago. Not only do they need consistency, but the Cardinals need a player with a versatile skill set, with the ability to affect the game in a multitude of fashions.
Kolten Wong was hyped up for years. At 26 years of age, with little to support the tremendous anticipation that preceded his introduction to the MLB, it may be time to move on from dreams of Wong at second base. In some ways, through his 2016 demotion and innings in the outfield, the Cardinals have already begun to make this move.
Overall, to me, Jedd Gyorko does not offer what the Cardinals need at second base. Though his power was a dazzling element to the 2016 Cardinals, his run production was abysmal, especially considering his overall tally of 30 dingers. Specifically, Gyorko drove in 59 runs, the lowest number EVER for a player who hit 30 home runs or more. In the field, Gyorko is not bad, but he is better known for versatility rather than for a specialized, second basemen skill set.
Overall, it is hard to complain too much about Gyorko’s 2016 performance, particularly when one factors in the minimal expectations fans had for him prior to the season. Looking at the big picture, however, it is unlikely that Gyorko sustains his success moving forward. He simply is not the long term answer for the Cards.
Regarding Matt Carpenter, there is not much to complain about, performance wise. Obviously, though, he is out of the discussion, as the organization elected to make him the permanent first basemen at Busch.
Following four paragraphs of negativity, where is the answer? Luckily, the Cardinals are built well. With excellence expected top to bottom within the organization, the answers usually come from the farm. In this case, it is no different.
Meet Breyvic Valera, a Venezuelan second basemen who has been with the Cardinals since 2010. At 24 years of age, Valera has grown up in the St. Louis system, and is ready to blossom into a big league stud. At a slender 5’11”, Valera will most likely not play with a style anywhere similar to that of Jedd Gyorko. Perhaps, though, such a difference is what the Cardinals really need to return to elite form.
In 6 seasons of Minor League Ball, Valera has performed well, showing an ability to weather the mental storm of professional baseball, fighting through slumps, coming out a generally consistent ball player. For his career, Valera is hitting .302 at the minor league level, hitting 108 doubles, 30 triples, and swiping 77 bags along the way.
Interestingly, too, Valera has played 4 seasons of foreign ball, posting similar statistics, slashing a solid .291/.385/.742. Having travelled and spent several grueling years below the glory of major league ball, I would argue that Valera’s experience and mental training will serve him well in the big leagues. In a league of struggles and adjustments, such an asset is truly invaluable for a young player.
Perhaps most exciting is Valera’s performance this past year. In 2016, Valera hit .341 in 217 AAA at-bats for the Memphis Redbirds, driving in 31 runs and stealing 8 bags. Furthermore, Valera has continued his hot-streak through the fall, hitting .376 in the Venezuelan Winter League. Along with this incredible average, Valera has 6 home runs, 8 stolen bases, and an OBP of .435. Seemingly, this guy can do it all. The question remains, however: will it translate to the MLB? Only time will tell.
Moving forward, Valera offers incredible value to the St. Louis organization, and, to me, offers the Cards exactly the spark they need. With encouraging tendencies regarding consistency at the plate, Valera has shown the ability to get on base, drive in runs, and perhaps most importantly, steal bags. On a squad that relied far too heavily on the long ball in 2016, Valera could be the spark that returns the Cardinals to their traditional ways of solid, energized baseball. Coupled with the incredibly explosive Harrison Bader, this combo could be an absolute terror at the top of the lineup for years to come. Finally, it is worth noting that Valera’s speed also proves essential on the defensive side, where he shows the range to make fantastic plays to both sides of the infield.
Overall, Cardinals fans should be excited about this prospect. With the tools to be both explosive and consistent, Valera could have the answer we so desperately need in the middle infield.