Valaika introduced to failure in 2009
By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com February 27, 2010

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- You have to learn a lot of lessons to become a big leaguer.

Chris Valaika learned one last season that most hot-shot prospects never think they'll have to deal with.

"I learned how to fail," Valaika said.

Valaika, a 24-year-old infielder, hit .235 with six home runs and 36 RBI in 266 at-bats at Triple-A last year.

Mind you, the season before Valaika combined to hit .319 with 18 home runs and 81 RBI at Single-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga.

He won the Chief Bender Award as the Reds' top minor leaguer that year.

His previous two years in the system were similar.

Valaika, a third-round pick in 2006 out of UC-Santa Barbara, had won gold medals as a member of Team USA at the World University Games and the Pan-Am Games before the Reds drafted him.

He went into last year as the fourth-rated prospect in the system by Baseball America.

He was a can't-miss guy until he missed badly last year.

It was humbling.

"It was the first time I really struggled bad," he said. "It was about making adjustments. I was getting by on talent alone. I had to learn how to be a baseball player and understand what was happening. In a weird way, I think it helped me."

The frustration got the best of him. He broke his hand hitting a water cooler and missed five weeks.

"I think everyone has those moments when it gets away from you," he said. "It gave me a chance to sit back and observe, something I might not have been able to do if I was playing. I was kind of too close to the problem."

Valaika hit .161 before the injury and .260 after it. His best month was August when he hit .318.

Triple-A is a big adjustment.

"I think it was just a combination of things, guys being veterans in Triple-A, having an idea of what they're doing," he said. "I'm sure it's ever more so in the big leagues. If they find a hole, they're going to keep exposing it until you make adjustments. It's cat and mouse."

Valaika did not play Winter Ball.

"I took the winter off and got to clear my head a little bit. I'll go into the season, having an idea, a clue. Now, I think I can make adjustments and ride that wave and eventually get out of it."

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