Valdez’s role and more on the new Dominican complex

In case we forgot how effective right-hander César Valdez can be with his “dead fish” changeup, we were reminded watching the second and third innings on MASN on Tuesday. He kept the ball down in the zone and retired six straight batters on three groundouts and three strikeouts.

Nothing to it.

He elevated some balls and got hit in the first inning. But in three spring games, Valdez has allowed one run in five innings with eight strikeouts. No doubt the Orioles have kept him on the back fields to provide opponents fewer looks at his marquee pitch.

Now the question is: How best to use Valdez?

He could start. He could pitch the ninth inning, as he did in getting three saves last summer. He could be an opener. He could pitch in long relief.

That might be the least appealing option to me, if long relief means following a starter that put the team behind 4-0 or 5-0. Why waste his innings then? Perhaps his best role could be as a middle relief option for innings five through seven when the game is in doubt. Serve as bridge between the starter and the back end relief. Keep the team in the game. With his ability to bounce back pretty well, he could probably pitch two or three times a week as the Orioles watch his innings and protect his health as best as they can.

On a team that may not have many save chances, why hold Valdez for the last three outs? In the American League over the years, it seems many games are lost by pitchers in middle relief before a team can get to its top high-leverage arms for the late innings.

“I think César’s the ultimate team guy and I’m comfortable putting him in any role,” said manager Brandon Hyde via Zoom after yesterday’s win over the Rays. “So whether it’s as a starter, a middle guy, a closer, whatever it may be, I think he’s up for anything and just wants to contribute. He is a super pro, really enjoy having that guy on the team.”

Valdez was quite a find by the Orioles when they signed him out of the Mexican League on Jan. 10, 2020. He’s thrown 1,884 pro innings and pitched 188 during the 2019 season. Now he is a pitcher that could help the Orioles in many different ways and it’s just a matter of which way they go when the bell rings April 1.

Dominican-Academy-Overview-Sidebar.jpgGetting it done on the international front: It was just about two months ago that the Orioles announced an international amateur signing class of 17 players. It featured the first two international amateurs ever signed by the club to seven-figure bonuses.

Soon, catcher Samuel Basallo from the Dominican Republic who signed for $1.3 million, and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández, who got $1.2 million, will have a shiny new home to play at in the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, the Orioles announced plans to build a new, state-of-the-art facility in Guerra, D.R. It will feature three fields and other amenities and serve as home to the club’s growing and improving Dominican operation. Construction begins in April with a 12-to-16 month timeframe to complete.

So the Orioles are dumping millions into both players and facilities, no longer falling way behind in this marketplace.

“It didn’t take much convincing,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “I think that John Angelos and the partnership group, we’ve been consistent about since I got here in the last couple of years in this new era. That we are going to be focused and disciplined on laying down a sustainable foundation for a successful franchise in Baltimore. And we’re going to roll up our sleeves and, you know, maybe go through some lumps here in the next few years as we build up.

“But we’ll be glad that we did this work when we get to that point. And it needed to be done. We’re transitioning from a period of time where we were maximizing every ability at the major league level and now we need to reset for what’s going to be the next great run here.

“Having facilities like this, having a scouting and player development apparatus that is first-rate, is all mandatory toward running a first-rate franchise. I point to the Indians as a great example of what can be done and they’re going to be our next-door neighbors here. I think there is some symbolism to that for us - the way that they go about international scouting and player development is what we aspire to. We brought Koby (Perez, senior director of international scouting) here from that organization. And we look forward to joining ranks with those guys and this is a huge step in that. I really commend the support that Koby and I have gotten from this partnership group.”

The Orioles’ international efforts are already being recognized. MLBPipeline.com ranked Hernandez No. 22 and Basallo No. 28 in its new O’s top 30 prospects list.

Elias said he got help from several other major league teams in the planning for this new complex.

“Yes. We’re all competing in this business, but there are certain areas where we all cooperate when it’s for the overall good of the industry,” he said. “And everyone having the best facilities and everyone kind of hiring the right people are all something we try to help one another with. Like I said, Cleveland in particular was extremely helpful during this process. The St. Louis Cardinals were extremely helpful. I’m sure Koby could name others I’m forgetting. The Phillies, the Rockies, there were a lot of teams that gave us guidance.”

Tuesday was a big day in Birdland.

Click here for more on yesterday’s big announcement and here for a refresher on the signings from January.

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