After a breakout season in 2017, Colorado Rockies bench specialist Pat Valaika is looking to build off his phenomenal first season with the club.
Whenever the Rockies were in a pinch or in a clutch game last season, it seemed as if Valaika was always up to the challenge. Valaika’s most eye-popping stat from the 2017 campaign is the fact that he broke the rookie pinch-hitting record with collecting 16 RBI. To go along with that incredible number, Valaika hit .351 in clutch situations last year and collected eight RBI and four home runs in those clutch moments.
As great as Valaika is off the bench, another one of his greatest traits is his defensive versatility. Valika has the ability to play every infield position and even has the ability to go out to left field and play the outfield. Valaika discussed his ability to play multiple positions and how the Rockies are expecting him to play a little more first base this season in an exclusive interview with Rox Pile’s Jake Shapiro.
"“I’m kind of like a year into it now, so it’s definitely a little easier. I have my routine kind of down getting to work at all those positions and making sure I check all those boxes. It’s good they give me a heads up too and are good about upcoming where I might play. It’s good I get some pretty good notice of what position might be coming up.”"
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Valaika already showed his positional versatility last season as he started 16 games at shortstop, five at third base, three at second base, two games in left field and one game at first base. Now nine games into the 2018 campaign, Valaika has already started two games at first base and still holds a fielding percentage of 1.000.
Like most professional athletes, the work they put into the offseason is what helps them prepare to become solid players when the season rolls around. Offseason preparation is something that Valaika took a lot of pride in this offseason, and he discussed with Shapiro how it’s helped not only his defensive versatility, but at the plate as well.
"“Just the same stuff I always pretty much do. Trying to be consistent with my swing… working different positions, ya know I went in the outfield a little bit more, first base for sure… just the normal stuff.”"
Valaika’s versatility and presence off the bench has been a great addition to the Rockies, but the winning mindset he brings the team has also been a breath of fresh air.
A ninth-round pick out of UCLA, Valaika was drafted by the Rockies during the same season in which he won a College World Series championship with the Bruins. Being successful in college has followed Valaika, as the Rockies made the postseason last year in Valaika’s breakout season with the club. Valaika discussed with Shapiro his winning ways and how its followed him here to Colorado.
"“I mean, I’m just one player. It’s always better to play on good teams, that’s for sure. I just try to do what I can to help the team win. I think that’s everyone’s goal here. Not too many, if any, selfish guys here. Everyone’s kind of got the same goal and we’re all kind of going the same direction and that’s all we want is to win.”"
The positional versatility and ability for Valaika to make the big hit late in games is a special trait that the Rockies are lucky to have. It’s also just an added bonus that Valaika is a winner, and it’s no coincidence that, since he’s been a regular contributor for the Rockies, the team has had nothing short of success.