(Photo: Matt Roberts Photography; Graphics: Justin Lada, IBI)
Welcome to the 2020 IBI Top 50 Indians Prospect Countdown. This year’s list and reports have been compiled by Indians Baseball Insider Editor-in-Chief Justin Lada, IBI contributor Willie Hood and other IBI staff members.
#2 George Valera- OF
Born: 11/13/2000 – Height: 5’10 – Weight: 160 – Bats: Left – Throws: Left
Facts and info: The Indians signed Valera for $1.5 million as an international free agent from Venezuela. He is from the same July 2nd class as Aaron Bracho and Brayan Rocchio. Valera ($1.3 million) and Bracho ($1.5 million) were the jewels of the 2017-2018 International signing period for the Tribe. The left-hand hitter was born in Queens, NY and moved to the Dominican Republic as a 13-year-old. Valera made his organizational debut in 2018 with the Arizona League Indians but saw his season limited to just 6 games because of a hamate injury. The Indians aggressively pushed the talent outfielder to the Short-Season Low-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers. In 2019, Valera hit .236 with 8 homers, 7 doubles and 1 triple with 29 RBI’s. He was promoted to the Low-A Lake County Captains for the last few games of the season. In his lone 2020 Spring Training appearance against High-A quality competition (5.8 opponent quality score per baseball-reference.com) he produced a solo home run with 2 walks and 1 strikeout in 4 plate appearances. While a very small sample it is indicative of the talent the native New Yorker possesses.
Offense: Valera is one of many Indians prospects that have an innate ability to put the bat on the ball. He has a good understanding of the strike zone and displays plus power from the left-handed side of the plate. Valera stands deep in the box with his knees bent and his back foot near the back of the batter’s box. His front foot stays recessed toward first base and in line with the center of home plate. He holds the knob of the bat at letter height and rests the bat across his shoulder. When the pitcher goes into his motion he quickly whips the bat around into position. As he swings, he rests his weight on his back leg with his knee bent and he steps with his front foot into the swing. Valera seems to move smoothly and coordinates his parts well.
Defense: Valera spent the majority of his 2019 season in center field, but projects more as a corner outfielder long term. Defensively, Valera may end up in left field where his strong arm would play well. Sites (Prospectslive.com and Fangraphs) vary on his defensive abilities. I saw him several times and he looked like he could be an average (50) corner outfielder with the ability to play some right field. In 2019, he recorded 75 putouts with 9 assists, 1 error and was part of 5 double plays in 46 games. I project him as a left fielder with fringe-average speed (45) and an average to above average (55) arm as he matures physically.
Speed and intangibles: On the bases and in the field, Valera isn’t a burner, but he displays average speed. He seems likely to slow as he fills out his frame as he matures. The young outfielder was the second youngest (teammate Brayan Rocchio was youngest) starting position player in the New York – Penn League on average 3 years younger than his peers. The 2019 season was essentially his debut in professional baseball, while it wasn’t a spectacular debut it was a solid performance against much older competition, which is indicative of future success. As I mentioned above, Valera displays an advanced eye at the plate, which will help determine his long term success.
Focus: The left-hand hitting Valera batted just .128 against same-handed pitching raising some early platoon concerns. It is worth noting it was a small sample (47 AB’s) and Valera’s overall youth and inexperience (it was essentially his debut season) provides hope for improvement. Valera Defensively the young outfielder will need to continue to get reps and work on his craft. While he lacks the speed for centerfield the experience there and in both corners should serve him well as he seems likely to make the transition to a corner outfield spot at some point in the future.
Advanced Stats: As I stated above Valera struggled to hit left-handed pitching in 2019 striking out 19 times in 47 AB’s (in 58 combined plate appearances) while drawing more walks (9) than hits (6). While at Short Season Mahoning Valley Valera struck out 27.7% of the time while walking 15.4% of the time producing a 0.56 BB/K ratio. This is evidence of both his need to reduce his number of strikeouts, but also the advanced eye he displays at the plate. In fact, some of the strikeouts were manufactured by way of Valera’s watchful eye at the plate. In 46 games with the Scrappers Valera produced a .210 ISO, a .377 wOBA, and 142 wRC+. Valera displayed his power pulling 47.2% of his hits to right field while driving 30.2% of his hits to opposite field with 22.6% of his hits landing in center field.
Future: Overall, I graded George Valera as a 50+ prospect with the potential to develop into a 60 type player with All-Star potential. Valera’s ability to develop at the plate will be the key to his future. He has drawn swing comps to the Mets Robinson Cano because of his beautiful left-handed stroke. Some writers have compared his sweet swing with Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, which is obviously lofty praise. The young outfielder projects to be a high average hitter .280-.290 paired with the potential to hit 30-35+ doubles and 25-30+ home run power giving him two potential (hit and power) plus tools (60). His arm is average (50) to above average (55) and reports vary on his arm strength, but in my views, it looks above average. Valera’s defense and speed are both average (50) tools, but that’s 5 – tools that should be average or better. I expect the speed to drop off a bit as he fills out his 5’10, 160 lb frame making it more fringe-average (45) and potentially guiding him toward left field long term. The developmental path ahead is still long, but he displays an advanced approach at the plate, which will benefit him as he progresses through the system. Watch for Valera to open the 2020 Season with the Low-A Lake County Captains, where he finished out the 2019 season.
– Willie Hood