Everyday role in journeyman Valencia's grasp

Third baseman grateful for opportunity with Oakland

March 9th, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Danny Valencia was a natural fit for the versatile, platoon-crazed A's, and he also could be had for free, basically, after landing on the outright waiver wire as a casualty to Toronto's frenzied activity at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2015.

The A's, of course, pounced, bringing in the well-traveled Valencia on Aug. 3 to play against lefties. He could bounce around the diamond, they thought.

Except Valencia, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in Oakland's 12-3 win over the White Sox on Wednesday, stuck at third base -- and in the lineup, too, even against righties. Immediately, he injected life into the A's, who in turn injected life into the 31-year-old's career.

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"Just getting in there and getting the reps and getting the confidence of the manager sticking you out there every day is huge," Valencia said. "Whenever you have the manager and the coaching staff behind you and believing in you, it makes you feel a lot better as a baseball player, and they've done that since I've been here, and I'm forever grateful for that."

Valencia hit safely in each of his first six games with the A's, going 9-for-23 (.391) with three home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs during a scorching stretch. He finished 2015 with 11 home runs in 47 games with Oakland -- starting 45 of them at third base -- and his 205 plate appearances during that span were the most he's had with any single team since '11 with the Twins, his second year in the league and his only full season with a full-time role.

Since then, he's been employed by five other teams, and most of his production has come against left-handed pitching; he owns a robust .321/.369/.493 batting line against southpaws. But a tweaked approach against righties in 2015 helped cement his newfound status as an everyday type of player.

"I'm trying to stay more in the middle of the field," said Valencia, who is also sporting a more pronounced leg kick. "Keeps you on right-handed sliders and right-handed offspeed pitches."

"I know before last season, he made some adjustments he felt like against right-handed pitching that would really help him, and we saw the fruits of that," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's working hard to maintain that. He knows this is a great opportunity for him. We're seeing maybe a little bit of a different guy than maybe you've seen in different camps.

"I think, with the opportunity he has, his focus is probably a little different. When most guys have a track record like he did, especially his rookie year, it can bother you a little bit when you don't get to play as much as you'd like, and this year he has the opportunity to play every day."

To that end, Valencia has been carving out early-morning time to work with defensive guru Ron Washington on a near-everyday basis. They can be seen on the backfields of the A's spring complex picking apart different aspects of the position, including first steps, angles and ball handling.

"Being the complete baseball player is the goal, and playing good defense is very important," Valencia said. "You can't slack on that, and just working with Wash, he's one of the best. Whenever he wants to work with me, which is often, I pay attention and listen because I know he'll make me better. You see the results he's gotten with Marcus Semien alone, and you have to buy into it because I see it. I saw it first hand last year, and just the way he talks about defense, it sticks with me. I can understand it a little better."

Valencia, who is under club control through 2017, thinks about the possibilities all the time, intrigued by what he's potentially capable of doing with more than 500 at-bats. Teammate Josh Reddick has an idea.

"Easily a 20-home-run guy," Reddick said. "Heck, he almost hit that mark with us last year. If he stays healthy, he's going to be a prime middle-of-the-order hitter."

Reddick saw most of his playing time in Boston as a platoon player in the early years of his career, and it wasn't until he arrived in Oakland by trade that his role expanded. The extended opportunity, like the one within Valencia's grasp, is one of several reasons Reddick has expressed a desire to stay in Oakland long term.

"Once I was done being upset and over the fact that I was away from the Red Sox organization, it was a relief to know that I was going to be getting a starting position, and they made that clear from Day 1," Reddick said. "It makes you feel that much better going to the ballpark every day, when you know you're probably going to be in there."

"You think about it in your head, 'What if, what if,' but when you actually get the opportunity and at the end of the season get to look back and see what you've done, it would pretty cool," Valencia said. "Hopefully, I can stay healthy and just continue to help the team win, and we'll see where things finish at the end of the year. When you have a front office and a coaching staff that seems like they really care about the players, you don't see that too often everywhere.

"All of the coaches have pushed me in a good way, and I'm extremely grateful, so I go out there and I work hard because I don't want to let them down."