Checking in on the Kids: AL Central Edition
As part of our new mid-season rankings update, we wanted to shine a light on some of the recent call-ups or hidden gems in each division. This week we are focusing on the AL Central. Like a parent checking in on a suspiciously quiet five-year-old in the next room, we here at TDG want to check in on our “kids” and see what they`re up to.
George Valera, 22, Cleveland Guardians, OF
In the AL East prospect check-in, Ryan mentioned using the space to discuss dark horse call-ups. 2023 can easily be described as dark for both George Valera and for his parent ball team. Entering the All-Star Break, the Guardians are a .500 ball club, with a meager half-game lead on the Twins. As they’re well known, the team is stingy in allowing runs and is tied for the 6th best in the league. But their -7 run differential means they’re equally bad at scoring as their opponents are. Fangraphs thinks they’ll maintain a .500 record over the remainder of the season while finishing a game behind the Twins.
If the Guardians brass thinks they need some offensive punch, they will not pay for it via a major trade. They’ll promote from within and one potential key call ups (eventually) will be Valera. I say ‘eventually’ because cash rules everything around the organization. I would wager Valera will still have rookie eligibility in 2024.
But I do think he’ll play in Cleveland this year. Entering the season, two things likely prevented Valera from making the Opening Day roster: the outfield ‘depth’ Cleveland boasted and a spring training wrist injury. Both of those items should be less of a problem now. His main competition on the depth chart is Will Brennan and Oscar Gonzalez. Neither has shown a level of consistency so far and in fact, Gonzalez is in Triple-A with Valera.
The wrist injury is a bit murkier. Known to be power-sapping, the effects of the injury seem to really be impacting Valera’s production. His punchless triple slash of .187/.319/.227 is more damaging than his less-than-punchless recent game. I have some concerns that his production hasn’t improved since returning a month ago. But he is getting extra time off as he’s serving a suspension over the next 5 games after shoving an ump and punching an opponent.
Once that’s complete, hopefully, Valera has a clear head and the time off improves on his ugly 21-game sample of results. An ISO of .040 doesn’t leave much opportunity for worse production, but he still knows his way around the strike zone. Entering the year, Valera was a hot name as a potential ‘bust’ based on his tendency to swing and miss and probably some prospect fatigue. Despite obviously struggling with production thus far, he has maintained his career K-rate in the low 20’s coupled with a strong 16% walk rate. These two simple statistics are what have me really keeping the faith that his rough start is attributable to the wrist injury.
At this point, if you roster Valera you’re not going to get much in trading him. Personally, I have a few shares as I was drawn in by his strike-zone judgment and powerful left-handed swing. I fully recommend trusting the pedigree and previous production more than his recent foibles. Over the course of his MiLB career, Valera produced ISOs regularly north of .200 and walk rates consistently in the teens. It shows that he has the potential to be the outfield equivalent of Max Muncy. Or at least he’s got a fighter’s chance to reach that.