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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Main Event lifts Valdez into '18

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – As the most highly ranked prospect from the class of 2019 at this weekend’s Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, Mykanthony Valdez knew coming in that many people’s expectations would also be high.

Valdez, a strapping, 6-foot-1, 210-pound third baseman/outfielder from Davie, Fla., who is ranked No. 77 nationally, shrugged off those expectations. He’s used to them by now – they make him feel a good kind of pressure – after having participated in 20 previous PG events and having earned Top Prospect List recognition at both the 2016 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event and the 2017 PG Junior National Showcase.

Maybe it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable and at home at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex, where both Main Events and the Jr. National were held. But whatever the reason, Valdez exudes confidence when he’s put in front of PG scouting personnel and asked to perform well, and high expectations only seem to fuel the fire.

“I feel like I’m doing pretty good, and I feel like as time goes on I’m getting better at knowing what I need to do here,” Valdez said before taking BP Friday morning at jetBlue Park. “It is my goal to be an (PG) All-American at the end of all this.”

Based on his play over the first two days of the three-day Under-Main Event, Valdez looked well on his way to being included on a third TPL. He threw 88-mph across the infield (tied for the 3rd best effort at the event) and recorded a 92-mph exit velocity during Diamond Kinetics bat-speed testing (tied 6th).

He was also impressive during his BP session, prompting a PG scout to report: “(Valdez) put his tools on display (Friday afternoon). It’s an easy swing and he generates quality bat speed and power through the zone, showing hard jump off the barrel with extension out front.”

After hitting a triple during game action, a report noted: “Valdez has a big physical frame with a quiet set-up and lots of pop in his bat.”

That is music to the 17-year-old’s ears. He feels good about the mental approach he’s taken when it comes to maxing out in a showcase environment as opposed to a game at a PG WWBA tournament while playing with Richie Palmer’s Elite Squad.

“You have a specific thing you want to achieve in a tournament; it’s more of a team accomplishment so you put aside your individual (goals),” Valdez said. “Here, it’s more about yourself and what you want to get out of it at the end of it.”

Mykanthony Valdez is the son of Mike and Kristie Valdez from Davie, and Mike was with him at the jetBlue complex on Friday.

Mike Valdez, who was born in the United States but raised in the Dominican Republic before returning here, said he especially enjoys watching the way his son interacts with all the other top-tier prospects he encounters at events such as this one. Mike feels a sense of satisfaction when he sees Mykanthony using this opportunity as a learning experience while also making new friends.

“We thought it was really important for him to be here this weekend,” Mike Valdez said. “These (showcases) are very beneficial, but more than anything I want him to have fun and enjoy the players (while he is) measuring himself against the best from the whole country. Be here, have fun, enjoy baseball and learn as much as he can.”

Valdez has been playing for the Elite Squad organization since he was 14 years old, and Palmer and the other coaches have made him feel like a part of one big family since the very beginning. He was a member of the Elite Squad team that won the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship here in Fort Myers in October, and was named to the all-tournament team (his 11th all-tournament selection).

“It was a really, really good experience for me, playing against the top talent in the nation,” Valdez said of the championship run. “Being able to win against all those teams is not easy, so everything was really good.”

Added Mike Valdez: “Elite Squad has been really good to us, and I consider Richie Palmer to be a good friend; he’s been like a second father to (Mykanthony). It’s been a really good fit for us.”

Valdez’s Dominican heritage and family connections to the island country has also been beneficial to his development into a top prospect. Valdez, who was born and raised in the Miami-area, told PG that a cousin of his, Cesar Nicholas, is a minor league instructor in the Dominican Republic working for the Seattle Mariners organization, and managed the Mariners Academy team in the Dominican Summer League this year.

This past August, Nicholas took Valdez down to the Dominican to spend a week with the Mariners’ Dominican minor-leaguers, and once there he was given the opportunity to work-out with them and take in several of their games.

“It was a really great learning experience,” Valdez said. “I got to be with the minor league players and I got to eat and sleep baseball, play along with them and practice with them. It was just a great experience for me.”

Mike Valdez was quick to note that it seems as if every young man plays baseball in the DR, and he was no exception. “I was just a player trying to make it (big) but I wasn’t that good; I wasn’t as good as (Mykanthony),” he said with a laugh.

Valdez is halfway through his junior year at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale. It’s his first year at CCA after transferring from Mater Academy Charter School in Hialeah Gardens before the start of the school year. He said he’s really looking forward to playing for head coach Alan Kunkel and the state championship-caliber program he runs at CCA this spring.

“We’ve been in the gym every day and I’ve gotten to know the entire team,” he said. “Coach Kunkel has made it a really smooth transition and I feel really welcome there; I feel like I’m at home.”

It had long been a dream of Valdez’s to one-day study and play baseball at the University of Miami. He developed a great affection for the program after attending numerous Hurricanes games as young boy, and he has, indeed, committed to “The U.”

When he was offered, he felt like it was a great opportunity not only for himself but for his family members. They will be able to watch him play on a regular basis if he does indeed land in Coral Gables, depending on what happens with the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft.

“It’s really just kind of overwhelming how lucky you get to be sometimes,” Valdez said of his experiences growing up in the Miami area with its outstanding high school, college an juco baseball programs. “But at the end of the day you have to realize that it was hard work that got you to this point and not just luck.”

He’s happy with how his development has progressed and feels like he’s reached a point where that progression is really going to take flight. Looking to the immediate future, he is especially excited about his upcoming high school season at Calvary Christian, a program that won a Florida Class 4A state championship two years ago and reached the semifinals at the state tournament in 2017 under Kunkel.

After what Valdez hopes will be a long run into the state playoffs in May, an important summer awaits. He is hoping to receive an invitation to the PG National Showcase this summer and is steadfast in his goal of then being invited to the PG All-American Classic.

The PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event represents another important step in the process, and a Top Prospect List performance is something each one of the more than 430 players that were here this weekend worked towards achieving.

“At an event like this, you want to be recognized and you don’t want to fall back in the rankings,” Valdez said. “But at the end of the day you’re just trying to show the people here and the scouts here your talent, and (how you project) for the future. You can’t get too caught-up in it because it will get into your head, so you just want to focus on (yourself) and do your thing.

“When you’re out here and everyone is competing against each other and playing at the (best) of their ability, it’s really a great experience to have.”

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