Valaika part of Reds' farm depth
Hot bat could be eventual ticket to job in the Majors
CINCINNATI -- Wherever shortstop Chris Valaika goes within the Reds' farm system, he hits.
That has been the case since his first professional season in 2006 with Billings. Valaika hit .338 that season and set a Pioneer League record with a 32-game hitting streak. The 23-year-old just completed his third year in the Reds' organization, split between Class A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga, and batted a combined .317 with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs.
Valaika, a .306 career hitter in the Minors, is one of eight up-and-coming Reds currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. In five games with the Peoria Javelinas, he is 4-for-18 (.222).
"He is one of our better infield prospects, for sure," Reds Minor League director Terry Reynolds said.
Cincinnati's third-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Valaika batted .363 with a .393 on-base percentage in 32 games with Sarasota this season. After moving up to Chattanooga, he batted .301 with a .352 OBP. He also played for the U.S. squad in the 2008 Futures Game during the All-Star break.
"He's been a very solid player for us since the day he signed," Reynolds said. "He adapted to the Southern League very well."
Judging by his 89 career walks compared to 277 strikeouts, Valaika likes trying to put the ball in play. He cut down his strikeout total somewhat this season to 102, compared to 114 in 2007.
It's likely that Valaika's bat will be his ticket to the Majors, but it wouldn't hurt him to cut down on his errors. He committed 25 errors in 123 games this season and 24 errors last season. The Reds have used Valaika exclusively at shortstop but would like to expand his abilities with some time at second base in the future.
The organization has started to sprout with some depth at shortstop with Valaika and Todd Frazier, who reached Sarasota this season but is becoming more versatile around the field. Paul Janish and Adam Rosales got tastes of the Majors this seasons. Injury-plagued veteran Alex Gonzalez, who missed all of this season with knee fracture surgery, is headed into the final year of his contract. That could open the door for someone like Valaika to make a move up by either late 2009 or 2010.
"I'm certainly not going to say he can't," Reynolds said. "He can make adjustments quickly. Everyone hopes Gonzalez is ready and he's our guy. But that being said, Valaika could follow that timetable. Everyone's preference is for him to get a full season in the Minors next year."
Valaika is expected to begin next season at either Double-A Carolina or Triple-A Louisville.
"We're comfortable that either way, he would hit," Reynolds said.