Once a MLB starter, Valencia stuck in minors

Two years ago, Danny Valencia went from mid-season call-up to the Minnesota Twins’ everyday third baseman. Now, Valencia is stuck in the minor leagues, trying to find his way back to the majors.

Valencia began the 2012 season on the Twins’ 25-man roster after a disappointing 2011 season in which he regressed both offensively and defensively. In 85 games during his rookie year in 2010, Valencia batted .311 with seven homers and 40 RBI and committed just six errors. While his power numbers stayed the course in 154 games last season (15 homers and 72 RBI) he batted nearly 70 points lower. His on-base percentage dropped from .351 in 2010 to .246 the following season, and he committed 18 errors.

Then, through 27 games in 2012, Valencia’s offensive numbers took yet another step in the wrong direction. He had just one homer and 11 RBI while batting only .190. His on-base percentage dropped to .204 as he drew just two walks in 103 plate appearances.

In seven games in May, Valencia was 0-for-25 with one walk, which led to his demotion to Triple-A Rochester. His last game with the Twins was May 9, and he’s been in the minors ever since.

“He’s been a big leaguer the last two-plus years. It’s not about working on something,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ vice president of player personnel. “It’s gaining consistency and doing the things you’re supposed to do to get back to where he was.”

Consistency is a word Radcliff uses often when describing Valencia and what it will take for the 27-year-old third baseman to work his way back to the majors. Through Rochester’s double-header on Sunday, Valencia is now batting .248 in 64 games with the Red Wings. With an RBI in the second game of Sunday’s double-header, Valencia has driven in 35 runs. He’s added seven homers and 15 doubles.

His on-base percentage, though, is just .287. The Twins have said they’d like to see Valencia draw more walks in the minors. At this point in the minor league season, he’s drawn just 14 walks while striking out 39 times.

“His on-base percentage has never been great. I’m not sure he’s that type of player that he’s going to have a great on-base percentage,” Radcliff said. “He’s drawn a few walks over the course of a short sample size. It doesn’t really accomplish anything. He’s got to get his swing right and his mental approach right and things will take care of themselves.”

Part of the issue for Valencia as he looks to crack Minnesota’s 25-man roster is that the Twins seem to have found an answer at third base. Back in 2010, they thought that answer was Valencia as it appeared the rookie could solidify a position that hadn’t seen much stability in Minnesota in recent years.

Now, Trevor Plouffe appears to be the answer (at least for now) at third base for the Twins. Although he missed two games this weekend with a thumb injury, Plouffe has now played 52 games at third base after spending time at shortstop last season. He’s currently second on the Twins with 19 home runs and he recently had a career-high 17-game hitting streak.

As long as Plouffe continues to play well at third base, there might not be room on the roster for Valencia until the rosters expand at the beginning of September. It’s a good problem for the Twins to have, but not a good problem for Valencia.

“As a young player in the major leagues, Danny took advantage of an opportunity to become a starting third baseman two years ago,” Radcliff said. “In order to stay, you’ve got to have the consistency and the mental approach to play your game and do what you do and do it well.”

Radcliff and the Twins are by no means giving up on Valencia as a part of their long-term plans. He’s shown he can hit for power, as his 15 homers were second-most on the team last season. His slugging percentage of .383 was third on Minnesota behind veterans Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

Valencia has hit at every level in his minor league career as well, beginning in 2006 after the Twins drafted him out of the University of Miami in the 19th round of that year’s draft.

He’s proven he can hit in the majors. Now, as Radcliff said, it’s time for Valencia to regain his confidence.

“That’s really what it’s all about here, I think,” Radcliff said. “There’s nothing wrong with his swing or his arm or his body or his glove. It’s just maintaining the intensity and the dedication and the focus level required to get consistency and get out there and do your thing every day.

“That’s really the foundation for every player in the major leagues, from our 25th guy to the best players on your team — (Joe) Mauer and (Justin) Morneau and (Josh) Willingham and the rest. You have to be consistent. You have to be able to bring your game every day.”

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