Waiting in the Wings: Sebastian Valle

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: World Future's All-Star Sebastian Valle #9 of the Philadelphia Phillies swings during an at bat in the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Sebastian Valle - C - Phillies - Signed out of Mexico as a 16-year old, Valle has moved one level per year during his career, which would put him on track to reach the majors in 2014. He first made noise as a prospect in 2009 as he laid waste to the New York-Penn League posting a .307/.335/.531 slash line. A weak defender when he began, Valle has improved greatly and is now a positive behind the plate, boasting a strong arm and good leadership skills. He shows above-average power but the question is whether he will make enough contact to use that power.

Learn more about Valle after the jump...

Since his breakout 2009, Valle has had his ups and downs, failing to break the .300 mark in OBP in 2010, but making a decent comeback last year in Hi-A, finishing at .284/.312/.394. That batting average represents the highest of his career, though his ISO did drop from .174 to .109, which should not be ignored. Valle's biggest deficiency at the plate lies in his ability (or lackthereof) to control the strike zone. He hasn't posted an OBP above .312 since his breakout campaign (2009), and doesn't seem interested in trying to do so again. Other worrying signs for Valle include his K% increasing every year of his career, and his BB% decreasing every year since 2009. His BB% fell to an unbelievably low 3.6% in 2011 and if you're wondering the raw stats on that, it computes to 13 walks in 365 plate appearances. He doesn't counterbalance that with low K%'s either as he's been at 20% or higher every year since 2008. Valle struggled in the offseason while playing in the Mexican Winter League, but the Phillies continued to push him, by promoting him to Double-A. This should be a stiff test for the 21-year old backstop, and I think the 2012 season will tell us a lot about him as a prospect.

Though the statistics show that he's had one above-average season, there's a lot to like about Valle as a prospect. He moves his hands well at the plate, showing explosiveness in his wrists to generate remarkable bat speed and above-average raw power, though it doesn't always translate to game power. Valle's high strikeout rate could stem from a few different traits within his swing. The major culprit is a visible upper cut, leaving his bat head within the zone for only a short time, making it that much easier to swing and miss. As I said before, he doesn't have any patience at the plate, and doesn't balance that over-aggressive approach with a high contact rate. When he's right, Valle does well to stay inside the ball and use the whole field. Unfortunately, due to his high leg kick, it's not hard for Valle's swing mechanics to be off. When that happens, he fails to make solid contact with good fastballs, and he can get too pull conscious as well. Defensively, Valle has made significant strides since he was signed, and projects as plus behind the plate. He displays impressive athleticism for a catcher, moving well behind the plate and more importantly, he shows the willingness to get out from his stance to block balls. He has a solid arm and good footwork, producing pop times as low as 1.9 seconds. As a catcher, speed is obviously not a big part of his game, though he's athletic enough not to clog the bases.

At 22, Valle is on level at Double-A, so he cannot afford many setbacks. That said, he's very clearly the Phillies catcher of the future at the moment, and I think his floor is that of a Rod Barajas-type player. His ceiling is very much more than that however, even if he doesn't refine his approach at the plate. The strength he has in his hands and wrists could produce 25-30 homers if he can make enough contact and straighten out his swing place to keep the bat in the zone longer. Given his defense, and strong leadership and gamecalling abilities, Valle could be an all-star even if everything doesn't click. He's a worthwhile prospect to keep tabs on, but it's worth noting that he'll likely never help you in average, and could be a detriment in OBP while adding value in any power category. In other words, an eminently ownable, if not above average catcher.

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