Danny Valencia gets some love, and opportunity, from A’s

Danny Valencia always could hit. A’s reliever Dan Otero played against him in high school — and with him on a South Florida travel team after their senior year — and recalls Valencia’s exploits well.

“He could absolutely rake,” Otero said. “Everyone knew who he was. I remember his first batting practice. Here was this tall, skinny kid pumping balls over the fence. It was home run central.”

Valencia, though, didn’t always get love from the scouts, going undrafted out of high school. Even when the Twins took him in the 19th round in 2006, their area scout wasn’t overly impressed with the then-University of Miami third baseman. It took a national cross-checker to suggest him as a possibility.

“I thought I was drafted a lot later than I should have been,” Valencia said. “I felt very underrated and overlooked because I played on a team at Miami where we had a lot of great players.”

That, though, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing - many a ballplayer has fueled his drive to the big leagues with an “I’ll-show-you” attitude. And Valencia has also had to battle the perception that he’s a platoon player.

“You have a huge chip on your shoulder,” he said. “You see certain guys get opportunities year after year while I’ve had to fight for everything, I haven’t been given anything.” That starts with being a 19th round draft pick, you don’t get the opportunities you get if you’re a first rounder.”

Since coming up with the Twins in 2010, Valencia has bounced around, going to Boston in 2012, Baltimore in 2013 and Kansas City and Toronto in 2014. Some suggest this might be because he doesn’t have much of a filter, though Valencia says he’s toned it down in recent years.

“For the most part, I’m a straight shooter. I’m going to tell you how I feel,” he said. “I’m a lot quieter than I used to be. I used to be a lot more outspoken.”

He felt he particularly didn’t fit in Minnesota, and his mother, Mindy, said: “Danny came out of the University of Miami and he had that Miami swagger. And the Twins were so Midwest. He stood out. He’s found other teams since that are better suited to his personality.”

He’s a little reminiscent of former A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, who became a friend in Toronto — both are competitive and brash and can annoy opponents.

“That’s why I like Josh Donaldson. He’s himself,” Valencia said. “He might rub some people the wrong way, but at the end of the day, do you want to go to war with him? Absolutely. He’s a gamer. He’s ready to play every day.”

And that’s something Valencia prides himself on. He likes to arrive early so he can get in all the work he needs to when it’s quiet and he can focus.

“I take this really seriously,” he said. “You won’t really see me on the couch or playing cards. I hate the feeling of going out there and feeling not prepared. This game is so results driven, but I can live with bad results if I know I was as prepared as possible.”

Much of this no-nonsense approach can be traced to Mindy Valencia.

“She is my toughest critic,” he said. “She definitely pushes me. She made sure I was always working hard on baseball. She never let me be the one who didn’t really work hard.”

Mindy Valencia said her son was plenty competitive on his own, but she does recall throwing bottle caps for him to hit at an early age to help him work on his swing. “I thought he needed to be prepared,” she said. “He had a tee. I took him to a batting coach. The other kids’ parents just had them show up.”

She said her dad, Seymour, was always at Valencia’s games, yelling for him to strike everyone out when he was pitching. “There was always pressure on Danny to be at the top of his game,” she said.

He likes to have his fun, too. Valencia enjoys traveling and went all over Europe last offseason, in part to watch soccer — he’s a Barcelona fan. And he has an inquisitive mind. He’s interested in history and business, among other things.

Valencia has been an asset for the A’s since he was acquired from Toronto for a $20,000 waiver claim. He plays every day, against left-handers and right-handers, batting third or cleanup. He has four homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games, and he’s batting .275, which doesn’t surprise Donaldson.

“He has a rep for hitting lefties, but I think he can hit righties, too,” Donaldson said. “He brings good energy to the park every day and he wants to help the team win.”
The A’s have Valencia under club control for two more years and he believes they are just a few moves from being a playoff team again.

“This is what I’ve always wanted,” he said of his everyday role. “Obviously, I wish it had happened earlier in my career, but at the same time I’m happy I’ve had some limited success to prove the doubters wrong. But it’s hard to change people’s perceptions once they’re set.”

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