WORCESTER — On Wednesday morning, for the first time in a professional career that began in 2015, Enmanuel Valdez pulled on the jersey of a minor league team that was not affiliated with the Astros.
Yet for the 23-year-old infielder/outfielder, who was acquired by the Red Sox in the Christian Vázquez trade Monday night, while it was admittedly strange to wear Worcester Red Sox gear, there also was an immediate thrill in making official his place in a new organization.
“It’s a different feeling when you put the Red Sox jersey on because of all the history of the organization,” Valdez said through WooSox bench coach Jose Flores. “I understand the business part of it, but at the same time, I’m very appreciative that the Red Sox actually inquired about me. That says that there’s interest.”
The Sox’ interest was hardly a shock to Valdez. Before he signed with the Astros as a 16-year-old in 2015, he’d been scouted by Red Sox Dominican-area scout Jonathan Cruz, who liked his offensive potential as a bat-first second baseman with average power. But before the Sox could get a cross-checker to see Valdez, the Astros signed him.
“It was my favorite organization growing up as a kid in the Dominican, and the Red Sox were actually going to sign me prior to my signing with the Astros,” said Valdez. “I’m happy that I’m here now, playing for the Red Sox.”
The Sox’ renewed interest in Valdez crystallized as he took a step forward this year, putting up video-game numbers for the Astros’ Double A and Triple A affiliates. He hit .357/.463/.649 with 11 homers in 44 games for Double A Corpus Christi, then hit .296/.347/.560 with 10 homers in 38 games for the Triple A Sugar Land Space Cowboys.
Evaluators saw obvious progress, with Valdez showing an improved ability to drive the ball to all fields — something that was evident in his debut Wednesday afternoon. In his second at-bat, Valdez, a lefthanded hitter, took an easy swing on a 92 m.p.h. pitch down and away, driving it 363 feet (96 m.p.h. exit velocity) over the fence in straightaway left for his 22nd homer of the season.
In 2020, with the minor leagues shut down because of the pandemic, Valdez worked to stay back on the ball, something that allowed him to improve his pitch recognition and drive the ball to the opposite field. His 2022 performance has reflected that adjustment.
“It feels good, but now that my numbers are where I want them to be, I need to keep on working more and more and more just to make sure they stay like that or get even better,” said Valdez.
“I’ve got to learn from the day; live for today and tomorrow is another day. So if you went 4 for 4 today, I can learn something from that. I take it to the next day. If I go 0 for 4, hopefully I learn things that I can improve and I can take it to the next day and improve on that.”
Valdez shows above-average offensive potential, with some evaluators seeing everyday potential and others imagining a prominent bench role. His bat-first profile has held, resulting in a positional future that is often characterized as ill-defined; he has spent most of his career at second but has bounced around the field.
Valdez, who spent time at second, third, first, and both corner outfield spots in the Astros system this year, primarily will play second for the WooSox but will continue to move around the field.
The trade merely reinforces Valdez’s sense of progress. In Triple A, he recognizes that he is “only a call away” — and he is thrilled that his proximity to the big leagues is with the team that was his favorite as a kid.
“Being from the Dominican, seeing Manny Ramirez play, Big Papi, and Hanley Ramirez, I looked up to those guys, all the success they had,” said Valdez. “Hopefully I can copy that.”