Danny Valencia loves hitting left-handed pitching. He hates the suggestion that’s all he’s about as a ballplayer.
“I didn’t get through the minor leagues hitting only left-handed pitching,” Valencia said.
That’s precisely the attitude Royals manager Ned Yost desires, and Valencia will get his opportunities to contribute beyond what has become his greatest strength in four major-league seasons.
Valencia, acquired from Baltimore in exchange for outfielder David Lough, owns a career .329 batting average against southpaws, with a .367 on-base percentage and .513 slugging percentage.
Those numbers against righties: .229/.269/.360.
But Valencia, who played third base in the majors and first base in college, will get his shot in camp.
“Every time we played against him, he opened our eyes a little bit,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ve got to see him in game situations. His numbers suggest he’s a lot better against left-handers, but it’s too early to make a judgment.
“You don’t want to pigeonhole a guy in your mind that he’s only a platoon player. Players continue to develop and get better. If I pigeonholed a player, it takes away from his ability to be everything he can be. You have to let it play out, see exactly what he is.”
Last year in Baltimore, Valencia appeared in 52 games, mostly as a designated hitter. He played six games at third. In 2011, he was the Twins’ regular third basemen, playing 147 games there in his first full major-league season.
Valencia did a short stint with the Red Sox before landing in Baltimore last year, but the Orioles were set on the corners with Manny Machado at third and Chris Davis at first.
“It was going to be tough getting on the field last year,” Valencia said.
So it appears to be this year with Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer on the corners for the Royals. When the Royals made the deal, the idea was for Valencia to be available to spell both. Designated hitter is less of an option with Billy Butler in that role.
Yost said Valencia could play some left field, even second base at spring training.
“We’re going to move guys around,” Yost said.
The second-base hint may be telling. If the Royals keep 12 pitchers and five outfielders, with Butler as the DH and two catchers, they’re likely down to one reserve infielder slot and will need versatility.
Whatever happens, Valencia is up to the challenge. He experienced disappointment coming out of high school in Boca Raton, Fla. Valencia dreamed of playing for Miami, but he wasn’t recruited by the Hurricanes.
He attended North Carolina-Greensboro and made the most of it with a conference player-of-the-year performance. That got Miami’s attention, and Valencia transferred and joined the national power, playing first with Ryan Braun at third. The team reached the College World Series in 2006.
Valencia, a 19th-round selection by the Twins in 2006, climbed the pro ranks quickly, making All-Star teams in the Appalachian League, Midwest League and Florida State League in his first three years. He made his major-league debut in 2010 and singled off the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez in his first at-bat.
Valencia’s first home run later that year was more memorable, a grand slam off the Royals’ Zack Greinke.
“I take great pride in hitting,” Valencia said. “Against righties and lefties.”