The Bronx is home to Yankee Stadium, while San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic, is the birthplace of countless baseball players who have worn an MLB uniform. They are two of the most important spots in the game.
“During my first couple years it was rough, all I could think about was trying to stay on the field,” Valera, 21, said. “This year I’ve been healthy and showing what I can do, and it’s a blessing because it’s always been a goal of mine to play in the Futures Game.”
But to understand Valera’s future, you have to look into how he got here.
Valera is a man who signed a contract with his father Jorge as a young boy, pledging that he would never give up on his goal of becoming a professional baseball player. It wasn't easy. He moved between the D.R. and the Bronx multiple times as a child for family reasons. It made him aware of the sacrifices his parents and older siblings made on his behalf so he could chase his dream.
“There’s a lot of things I wanted as a child, but I knew around the age of 7 that I wanted to be a big leaguer, play a long time, and go to the Hall of Fame,” Valera said. “My family made sure I had everything I needed, and let me focus on baseball. Whether it was a bat or cleats, I only had to ask for something once, and that was that.”
At 13, Valera made a name for himself on the New York travel ball circuit as a member of the team owned by the Steinbrenner family, Hank’s Yanks. Later the same year, he made the Dominican Republic his permanent home with his family after his father had metal rods inserted in his limbs after an accident. His father preferred the warm climate, as the New York winters caused him severe discomfort.
Valera blossomed in the D.R. and quickly became one of the island’s most coveted teenage players. He’s been one of Cleveland’s top prospects since he signed with the organization in 2017 and now is growing into a leader.
“I try to model myself after great players who are also good people because my favorite players have always been where I want to be in 10 years,” he said. “I want to be an example for everyone on and off the field.”
His agent, Rafa Nieves, a former Minor Leaguer in the Tigers' system, saw these traits on top of the talent that was already present and knew that the young outfielder was cut from a different cloth.
“In my 11 years working in the industry as an agent, I’ve never represented a Minor Leaguer as success-oriented as George,” Nieves said. “He’s truly wired differently.”
Valera’s manager at High-A Lake County, Greg DiCenzo, also has nothing but praise for the outfielder’s makeup.
“He recognizes the importance of hard work on a daily basis and is not afraid of it,” the manager said. “Although he is confident, he understands that you have to be coachable to be a successful big leaguer [and] certainly a leader.”
The numbers speak for themselves.
With a slash line of .277/.379/.494 and 13 home runs through 73 games, the Guardians' No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline is grateful to be healthy and on the field. Injuries, coupled with the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League season, limited him to only 58 games during his first three seasons.
He’s also happy to be part of an organization that has a rich history with Black baseball players. Valera is learning about that, too.
Although known for his time with the Chicago White Sox, Afro-Cuban Minnie Miñoso became the first Afro-Latino player in MLB history when he played nine games with Cleveland in 1949. He’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame later this month.
Proud of his own Afro-Dominican heritage, Valera understands he has a chance to be part of the legacy and play a role in the game’s global appeal.
“It's pretty amazing playing with guys from all over the world,” Valera said. “Learning about different cultures and learning how people are from different places is amazing. Seeing how proud everyone is of who they are is awesome because I get to learn from it. It reminds me of growing up in New York.”