Going 11-14 with 7 RBI and a monster homer is a pretty good series for Joe Mauer. Except that effort was just turned in by rookie 3B Danny Valencia. Although Valencia’s minor league numbers are uninspiring (.298/.353/.469) he has hit .400/.449/.511 since coming to the big club. Valencia’s BABIP is a sky high .450 right now, and while you don’t have to be a sabermetrician to know that is coming down, it will be interesting to see how far it falls.
Valencia hasn’t showed much power as a major leaguer (though after his current hot streak a fourth of his hits have gone for extra bases) but scouts have always praised his gap power. If Valencia isn’t going to hit for power, he needs to improve his patience. His walk rates have fluctuated immensely in the minors, generally spiking when he repeats a level. The pessimist in me would conclude that this just meant he became too advanced for his league, the optimist hopes that by learning the pitchers and how the strike zone is called at each ascending level.
But where Valencia has a shot to make an impact is his defense. While scouts were somewhat split on his glove in the minors, Valencia has a 1.5 UZR so far, which when expanded to 150 games comes out at just over +13.5 runs. I don’t think Valencia is that good of a defender, but based on the (admittedly small) number of games I’ve watched him play, he looks like a +5 to +10 defender to me. He doesn’t have great range but can make up for it by being able to play a bit deeper due to his arm. Oddly enough, Valencia reminds me of another Twins 3B, Nick Punto. Punto’s career UZR/150 at 3B is a pretty ridiculous +18.6, but his career wOBA is just .294. If Valencia can post an average wOBA over the course of his major league career (which would be helped by developing Punto like patience) he will be a cheap replacement for Punto, albeit in a slightly better hitting, slightly worse fielding form.