Wizards Where R They? – Fernando Valenzuela Jr.

There’s some sort of novelty about second generation baseball players that I seem abnormally attracted to following. I guess it’s the fact that baseball runs I the blood ffor those players an I somehow fantasize that the players really “get” the spirit of the game.

The most fabled, of course, are the likes of Bobby and Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. The Sandy Alomar and his son, Roberto and Sandy Jr. also immediately come to mind. In Fort Wayne, the baseball family ties run deep on the local level. I’ve e-mailed and spoken with men and women who have connected with their fathers and brothers (and on occasion, mothers) through baseball.

The Wizards have also had their share of second generation baseball players. I immediately think of Josh Barfield (Jesse’s son), Will Venable (Max’s son) and Fernando Valenzuela Jr. I’ve documented Josh Barfield and Will Venable considerably here on this site. So now, I want to turn my attention to Valenzuela.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr. as a Wizard in 2004

The junior Valenzuela was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 10th Round (281st overall) of 2003 amateur entry draft after having played at UNLV. He signed and broke in his spikes with the Padre’s Low-A team in Eugene, seeing 73 games of professional action.

As a prospect, Valenzuela was said to have inadequate power and speed for a first baseman:

He should be able to maintain a good batting average and OBP at higher levels. But his swing is more of a line-drive stroke at this point, and his home run power hasn’t been good enough for a first baseman. He knocked just 11 homers last year, and with a career slugging percentage of only .391 so far, it remains to be seen how he’ll fit in at higher levels. He doesn’t run well enough to play the outfield, and he’ll have to boost his power production to remain a prospect as a first baseman [John Sickels, ESPN].

The following year, Valenzuela played the full season with the Fort Wayne Wizards and produced a solid showing that might have led one to predict a good future for the youngster. Valenzuela led the team with 148 hits while collecting 28 doubles and 81 runs batted. He slugged 11 home runs and produced a .295 batting average in a league that is typically dominated by strong pitching.

In 2005, Valenzuela was promoted to Lake Elsinore, where he produced pretty much the same results, with a slightly higher strikeout rate. Despite the showing, he was released, largely because he was blocked by other strong first base prospects in the system. In researching the timeline, it seems that the Padres were forced to decide between Valenzuela and Paul McAnulty. Had McAnulty not rededicated himself to the game and gotten into better shape physically right about that time, it is very likely the shoe would have dropped the other way.
Following his release for San Diego, the Chicago White Sox picked up Valenzuela. In 80 games with the Single-A Kinnapolis Intimidators, he collected 78 hits, 13 doubles, 9 home runs and 42 RBIs over 293 at-bats. But his average suffered at .266. He finished the 2006 season with Kinnapolis and was released the following spring.

In 2007, Valenzuela played 21 games with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association independent league. During the short stint, his bat came back to life; producing a .338 batting average that included 26 hits and 12 runs batted in over 77 at-bats.

2007 and 2008 also saw Valenzuela playing in the Mexican League, where he continues to produce at the plate. With Vaqueros Laguna in 2007, Valenzuela hit .349 with 37 hits, 11 runs batted in and 3 home runs over 106 at-bats in 47 games. With Leones de Yucatan in 2008, Valenzuela hit .314 with 34 RBI’s and 6 home runs over 242 at-bats in 77 games. His strikeout to walk ration is still pretty rugged (22:23 in 2008 and 10:16 in 2007), but he’s proven he can still hit the ball.

In case you are wondering, the Mexican League is considered a minor league organization. I contacted Fort Wayne TinCaps General Manager Mike Nutter for some assistance in understanding exactly how (because it is very rare that you’ll hear of a player begin “called-up” from the Mexican League). Here’s what he had to say on the matter:

The Mexican League is a member of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues and has a Triple-A classification. However, its member clubs operate largely independently of the 30 Major League Teams.

Fernando Valenzuela Jr. as a Wizard in 2004Nutter also indicated that the Padres are among the MLB organizations who maintain a relationship with the league. For instance, both Oliver Perez and Joakim Soria have played in the league and are now Major Leaguers. For that reason, the league is listed in the international section of the Baseball America Directory.

So, while I would not look for it, there is a possibility that Valenzuela Jr. may again work in the farm system of an MLB organization. He is now on the other side of 25 and has never played above single-A ball. Given that he is a first baseman with not a whole lot of speed or versatility, Valenzuela’s MLB chance has likely have come and gone.

In case you are wondering, the McAnulty made his MLB debut in 2005, though he didn’t play much with the big club until 2008, when he appeared in 66 games for the Padres before being sent down to Triple-A Portland. He remains with the club, and while many predict his Padres career is over, the numbers he put up after his demotion might earn him a second look in 2009.

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