Could the Astros’ Luis Valbuena Become an Impact Player Like Jose Bautista?
In baseball, sometimes players take longer to develop into baseball stars like Jose Bautista did. Houston Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena got off to a rather slow start to his career before having a mini-breakout year in 2014 as the stop-gap at third base until Kris Bryant was ready. The 2014 season was his seventh calendar year in the big leagues, but he only has about 5.2 years of MLB service time right now.
The past 2.5 years, he has been a regular in the big leagues, but before that, he was up and down between the minors and MLB. The same could be said for Bautista’s humbling start to his career where he played for five teams in his first six years. He played for four different teams his rookie 2004 season before locking on with the Pirates until 2008. In August of 2008, Bautista was traded to the Bue Jays, but he didn’t break out until the 2009 season.
Bautista is now 35-years-old and in his walk year with the Blue Jays. Between 2006-08, Bautista was about a .240/ 15 homer/ 50 RBI type of hitter. Basically, he was J.D. Martinez during his 2012 season with the Astros, before breaking out in 2014 with the Detroit Tigers. After a disappointing 2013, the Astros chose not to keep him and placed him on waivers.
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Bautista may not be a good comp for Valbuena because he has not had the 54 homer season that Bautista did in 2010. There are few players in the game that have the raw power that Bautista does, but Valbuena can hit some majestic shots of his own plus the bat flip. Valbuena now has 12 homers on the season, but the steady growth over the past few years is reminiscent to Bautista’s rise.
It is yet to be seen as to how good Valbuena can become, but this could be the last season that he could be in an Astros uniform. He fits in well with the Astros squad, but may be pricing himself out of the Astros plans in his walk year. He has raised his OPS to a respectable .844 while flirting with a .270 batting average. He is quickly becoming one of the fan favorites on the Astros because of his clutch hitting in big time situations.
Will he become the player that Bautista has become? He will have to learn how to stay consistent all season and not suffer April’s like he did this year. However, he could be a real nice late bloomer story like Bautista and Martinez were, but will his Astros career continue?
Last week’s Talking Stros, give it a listen.
It was assumed that he was acquired to be the stop-gap third baseman until one emerged for the Astros. Jed Lowrie, Colin Moran, Matt Duffy, and Danny Worth all have tried their hands at third base, but the job seems to fall back in Valbuena’s lap.
Alex Bregman is knocking on the door, but the Astros may wait till 2017. The Astros could move Bregman to the outfield if they want to hold onto Valbuena, but it is too early to know what will happen after the season. Who knows, maybe Valbuena has a Bautista 54 homer breakout year, he has upped his level of play in 2016. Too early to see if he could become a star like Bautista.
***Stats and contract status from Baseball-Reference***