Strongly considered one of the top Indians prospects since his signing in 2017, it took quite some time for George Valera to get established. He was just 16 when he signed and skipped the Dominican Summer League with the expectations of playing in Arizona as a 17 year old in 2018. This run lasted exactly six games before he broke his hamate bone and missed the rest of the season.
To this point no one had really laid eyes on Valera for a significant time, but I was finally able to watch him semi-regularly during 2019 extended spring where I saw him walk more than he struck out in limited action. This ultimately lead to him breaking camp with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers where he finally got to show off his skills in official games.
Despite essentially skipping the Arizona League and the DSL, he was one of the top performers for the Scrappers, ultimately landing a spot on the All-Star team. He has hot from the very beginning with 13 hits in his first 10 games including three doubles and three home runs. Following a brief cold spell, he reached safely in 22 of 26 games in July, largely due to a high walk rate.
Unlike some of the more aggressive young players to come up through the system recently (think about Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman), Valera isn’t afraid to go deep into counts to get his pitch and this has lead to both a high walk and high strike out rate. A lack of prodigious power keeps him from being a three true outcome player, although he has enough power at 18 to think he might get there someday.
After missing the first two weeks in August, Valera was brought back just long enough to catch up to speed before being promoted to Lake County. This would mark his worst stretch of games of the season as he hit .083/.195/.139 with 15 strike outs, three walks and three hits between his return from the IL and the end of August (41 plate appearances).
This could have been a rough end for Valera in his rookie year, but luckily for him, the Captains had already claimed a play-off spot in the Midwest League Eastern Division for their first half performance. As a preview of the first play-off series, the Captains played the Great Lakes Loons to end the season and Valera finally got out of his cold spell with three RBI and a triple on September 2nd.
Two days later, Valera and the Captains took on the Loons in the quarterfinals with Valera hitting second and playing left field. While they lost the opener, it was of no fault of Valera, who had an RBI double and a single. The issues were more that hitters #3-7 went 0 for 16 and Shane McCarthy allowed 10 hits in five innings in a rare rough start.
The Captains won the following game (September 5th), allowing them to extend their season another day, and Valera helped with a single and a walk. While this effort didn’t go directly towards the Captains win (all four Lake County runs were scored in the 9th with neither team scoring in the first eight), it was good for Valera to have a positive note to end his season. In their final loss to the Loons on Friday night, Valera added another double, one of just three Captains hits, increasing his modest hitting streak to five games to end the year.
Overall, Valera hit .217/.336/.411 for the regular season between both teams, despite an insanely unlucky .143 BABIP in his short time in A ball. Obviously, there is still work to be done, but considering he is playing against players who average more than three years older than he is, this was incredibly impressive. He walks so much that his lack of overall hits isn’t a major issue and he hits for enough power that he is a scary offensive threat.
By playing real games and turning potential into reality, many who were already high on Valera have increased their expectations and he has broken into the top 50 prospects in all of baseball according to Fangraphs and is now the Indians top prospect (MLB Pipeline has him 6th overall, fourth among position players). I personally am not quite this high on him (he’s the third best position player in my own rankings), but seeing him perform against other talented players rather than in practices makes a big difference in evaluating him.
For those who haven’t seen him, you may be picturing a typical corner outfielder based on his batting line, but Valera is not that. He’s just 5’10” 160 lbs and has still played more in center than any other outfield position. He’s been moderately efficient there, although I expect him to play more in the corners as he moves up in the system and plays alongside more elite talent. His arm is strong enough for a corner and he’s already had 11 assists in his short (51 game) career. He managed two in five games last year as the opposition thought he was just another rookie level outfielder until they were called out at third.
Following his brief success at the tail end of the 2019 season with Lake County, there is no obvious reason why he wouldn’t begin the 2020 season there for his first full season of minor league ball. While the Indians have generally moved players slowly through the system, Valera’s advanced approach at the plate has already allowed him to jump multiple levels despite his youth and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in Lynchburg for the second half of 2020.