(photo: Breyvic Valera/Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
This is the opener of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series in which we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.
Let’s get right to it with a look at the list of July system-wide hitting leaders, starting with our honoree.
Valera takes home monthly honor
While a number of position players in the Cardinals system had strong Julys, one offensive player rose above the rest, utilizing a tremendous stretch to lead his club to their best month in franchise history.
Our July Player of the Month is Memphis infielder Breyvic Valera. The 25-year old should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Cardinals organization and the Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honors.
Among position players with at least 70 at-bats, Valera led the Cardinals system with a 1.034 OPS, spearheaded by an impressive .484 on-base percentage in the month of July. He finished the month with a .413 average (second to only Springfield’s Andrew Knizner by one point).
Not only that, Valera, who has bottom of the scale power potential (20 on the 20-80 scouting scale), was fourth in the organization with a .550 slugging percentage among those qualified. The infielder, who has experience at a multitude of positions, recorded nine extra-base hits (eight doubles and one homer) as well as plating nine runs.
In 80 at-bats, Valera showed his knack for contact with a 6-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio while swiping four bags in seven chances.
“It’s my game, it’s my game, to put the ball in play and run hard to the base,” Valera told Memphis Redbirds radio broadcaster Steve Selby.. I enjoy this time (being hot). I need to stay there right now. Get going, get going, and play hard.”
The Venezuelan attributed his success to controlling what he can control.
“My mindset is I control what I can control,” Valera told the Memphis broadcast. “I control hit the ball hard. I don’t feel my swing is a little bit late or a little bit early. Right now, my mind is strong. Working on my swing, working on my defense.
“Right now, I feel my swing. I feel great. That is all I control right now.”
Valera, who was added to the Cardinals 40-man roster this past November, makes good contact and has a good feel for the barrel. Despite no over-the-fence pop in his bat, the switch-hitter projects as an average hitter at the major-league level.
His defensive profile is a question as he lacks the range and arm strength to play shortstop and is an average runner. According to two industry sources, Valera ultimately projects as an organizational utility player at best and a 25th man in the most optimistic view.
As Memphis completed its best month in franchise history with a 22-6 record for July, Valera was integral piece atop the lineup while helping the team to an overall 71-37 record this season.
All in all, he is prepared for whatever is thrown his way as he finishes out the season.
“Stay ready, stay strong,” Valera said. “Get going.”
Had it not been for a lower on-base percentage (.468) and OPS (1.025), Knizner could have claimed the Player of the Month honor for July. As already mentioned, the backstop paced the system in average in July.
Over 19 games, the Cardinals 2016 seventh round pick went 29-for-70 with four doubles, two homers, and eight RBI all while acclimating to the Texas League following a three-level jump on June 14.
“I feel the key to my success is my ability to make the necessary adjustments to be competitive at this level of play,” Knizner said, noting his shortened swing and adjusted posture at the plate created an efficient path to the ball.
One hitting prospect made a huge impact on his club offensively while also making his big-league debut toward the end of the month. Memphis’ center fielder Harrison Bader slashed .314/.377/.600 with six homers and 12 RBI through 21 games at Triple-A before his call up to St. Louis on July 25.
Bader returned to Memphis on July 31.
Unlike Bader, Nick Martini spent the full month of July at Triple-A. Memphis’ lead-off man posted a .344/.447/.500 slash line with five doubles, two triples, two homers, and 12 RBI in 96 at-bats for the Redbirds.
“Legit guy,” one scout said. “With the right team say, San Diego. He is in the big leagues already.”
Another important part of the Memphis offensive juggernaut is shortstop Alex Mejia, who was optioned from the big-league club on July 10. Mejia took advantage of his 18 games with the Redbirds, hitting .358 with a .953 OPS while bashing three home runs and driving in 17 over 67 at-bats.
A fresh name to the organization is Knizner’s former college teammate at North Carolina State, Evan Mendoza. The 21-year old third baseman was the Cardinals 11th round draft pick this year and had a torrid month of July for State College, posting a .366 batting clip with 13 RBI and a .949 OPS in 24 games after a tough start in June.
“Everyone’s going to go through something like that in baseball; it’s a failing game,” Mendoza told The Cardinal Nation recently. “You just have to stay confident and keep your head up and kind of take a positive out of every at-bat, and that’s kind of what.
“I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks. I’ve been hitting the ball hard, getting into good counts and seeing the ball pretty well. But I think the past couple days, the ball’s just been dropping and that’s how baseball works.”
Some other worthy names to mention is newly-acquired power packed prospect Tyler O’Neill, who slugged three homers and 14 RBI in limited action at Memphis. The outfielder had a 1.002 OPS in 36 at-bats.
Peoria middle of the order bats Stefan Trosclair and Ryan McCarvel each had five home runs as well as a .953 and .947 OPS, respectively.
Second baseman Darren Seferina hit .330 (36-for-109) with four blasts and 13 RBI between High-A Palm Beach and Springfield.
Look for TCN’s July Pitcher of the Month on Thursday and the Cardinals organization’s announcement of their choices as the top performers from the fourth month of the 2017 season at some point this week.
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