Father’s accident, homeland shaped Valera into Scrappers’ top prospect
By dan Hiner
Travel takes its toll on Minor League baseball players, especially at the Single-A level. Mahoning Valley Scrappers outfielder George Valera is used to moving around.
An accident forced his parents to move to the Dominican Republic when he a 13-year-old.
Valera was born in Queens, N.Y., and was raised in the Bronx.
His father was a cab driver when he was a child. Valera was too young to remember the accident, but his father was hit by a truck.
“He flew maybe 20 feet in the air,” Valera said. “He couldn’t really do much.”
Valera’s father survived the accident, but for medical reasons, the family needed to find warmer weather to escape the cold New York winters.
“The cold would really messed with his body ‘cause he has metal in his body,” Valera said.
It was a homecoming of sorts for the Valera family. His parents were originally from the Dominican Republic and they moved back to his father’s hometown.
“It was a struggle for me at the beginning because I had to leave my brother, my sister, my cousins, my friends back home ... my baseball friends and get to be in a new atmosphere,” Valera said.
The Cleveland Indians signed Valera as a non-drafted free agent in 2017. The 18-year-old has quickly become the fifth-highest rated prospect in the Indians’ organization, according to MLB.com.
Valera went 6 for 18 with a home run and six RBIs while playing with the Arizona Indians 2 at Rookie last season. He also had a double, three walks and four runs scored in six games.
The 5-10, 160-pound prospect is hitting .265 in nine games with the Scrappers. His three home runs leads the team and is tied with Henderson De Oleo and Bryan Lavastida with seven RBIs for the team lead.
“It’s just paths that you have to go through, obstacles you have to run through,” Valera said when discussing the challenges of moving to another country. “The toughest soldier is gonna survive, and I hope to be that guy.”
He’s the highest-rated non-drafted prospect in Cleveland’s farm system and is one of five Scrappers on the MLB.com list. He is ranked one spot ahead of recent call-up Bobby Bradley, who made his debut with the Tribe on Sunday.
Valera doesn’t think about the rankings. He said his family will update him on his status, but he just wants to show up to the ballpark and play.
“I don’t really focus on that because that’s not my end goal,” Valera said. “Being a prospect doesn’t matter to me at all.”
Valera moved three times in five years. But what about a move to the Lake County Captains?
Scrappers hitting coach Grant Fink said Valera has the potential to be “a special player” if he puts in the work at the lower levels.
“He’s a really advanced hitter,” Fink said. “Got a really good approach at the plate and he’s got some firepower back there.
“Being 18 years old, he’s got time to develop, get stronger just like all these players that are young here.”
While some might have dwelled on his father’s accident, Valera sees the positive and how it’s impacted his future in baseball.
“Honestly, I think it was one of the biggest blessings I could have received because I got to see the best of both worlds,” Valera said.
“Being able to speak both languages — English and Spanish, getting to have better communication with my teammates ... more like friends — is just amazing.”