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Why the Yankees acquired Breyvic Valera for infield depth

The Yankees have added more 40-man roster insurance to their infield.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees claimed infielder Breyvic Valera off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on Monday, and added the 27-year-old to the 40-man roster. He was immediately sent to Triple-A Scranton, but it’s likely not a coincidence that this move came one day before placing Miguel Andujar back on the injured list as he attempts to avoid surgery on his right shoulder. Valera has appeared in just 37 major league games, and he’s hardly a household name. So who is Valera, and why did the Yankees think he might be able to help them this season?

The switch-hitting 5-foot-11 utility infielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an international free agent out of Venezuela in May 2010, and played the next seven seasons in their farm system before making his MLB debut in September 2017. Valera was traded to the Dodgers in April 2018 and then to the Orioles as part of the Manny Machado deal last July. He was dealt to the Giants in January and designated for assignment earlier this month. In his small sample of MLB games he’s batting just .216/.286/.243.

Valera has traveled quite a bit in the past few years, but there’s a reason so many teams have taken a chance on acquiring him. He’s the definition of a contact hitter, striking out in less than 10% of his at bats as a minor leaguer. For comparison, there are only three qualified players in the major leagues with a strikeout rate under 10% right now. It’s evident that Valera can put the bat on the ball, but he doesn’t possess much power. He hit a career-high eight home runs in 117 Triple-A games in 2017, and has never posted an ISO greater than the .149 he put up in 56 games with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate last season (FanGraphs).

While the Yankees were probably bargain shopping for any available utility infielders with a taste of big league experience, they might have been intrigued by some adjustments Valera has made this season. It’s only 24 games and 92 Triple-A plate appearances, but Valera is drawing walks at a much higher clip so far in 2019. His career slash line in 10 minor league seasons is .298/.358/.387, but he’s slashing .257/.396/.338 this season, showing that he’s perhaps made a concerted effort to draw walks, as opposed to simply putting the bat on anything in sight. The average and slugging percentage don’t scream success, but his 17% walk rate aligns more closely with players the Yankees have targeted in recent seasons.

Defensively, Valera grades as a 50 shortstop according to FanGraphs, but almost all of his big league experience comes at second base. He’s also played third base and the Dodgers even tested him out in right field for a couple innings. If he’s given a chance with the Yankees it will likely be in a role very similar to Thairo Estrada, another natural shortstop used at second base and thrust into the outfield if necessary. Nobody imagined the Yankees acquiring Estrada insurance when the season began, but Valera could be the next contributor in line for the “next man up” 2019 Yankees.