Valaika working to stay on big league roster

Valaika working to stay on big league roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- After being greeted by a reporter just before Reds Spring Training opened, infield prospect Chris Valaika uttered two words that succinctly summed up his situation.

"Important camp," Valaika said then. The Santa Barbara, Calif., resident had already been at the team complex working out and hitting since the first week of January.

Now with Spring Training in full swing, the 25-year-old remains determined and focused on winning a spot on the Reds' 25-man roster.

"Personally, coming in having gotten my feet wet a little bit last year, it gave me a taste and I want to stay there," Valaika said on Thursday. "It's tough to be in a situation where you're kind of on the bubble and not sure where you're going to be. If I get an opportunity, hopefully I show well enough in Spring Training that I get a chance to stay with the team."

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Originally a shortstop, Valaika was switched to second base before last season. This spring, he is working out and taking drills from second base, third base and shortstop.

Valaika was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 24 and notched his first big league single on the very first pitch he saw from the Giants' Santiago Casilla. He batted .263 with one homer in 19 games for the Reds after he batted .304 with four homers and 53 RBIs in 118 games for Louisville.

In a deep farm system for middle infielders, Valaika has been one of the Reds' more elite prospects and was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. His first year at Triple-A in 2009 was lousy as he sank to a .235 average and endured his first taste of extended failure at any level.

"For me to do that and come back and put it back together last year was a huge confidence boost, knowing I could do it and get to the big leagues and being able to have a few games," Valaika said. "Having some success means even more confidence."

The Reds will have some challenging decisions to make as they seek to fill one of the final bench spots. They will also have to decide whether they want to let one of their young prospects be often idle as a reserve or play every day in the Minors. Besides Valaika, the Reds are looking at younger players like Yonder Alonso, Zack Cozart, Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier.

"Is it better for him to help us up here or is it better for him to play and help us and help himself now and later?" Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It's hard to develop sitting. A player that's sitting, you already have to be developed. That's why it's more of a veteran spot. They know how to stay ready and remain confident because they have some background of success. Young guys don't."

"That's definitely a trade-off," Valaika said. "Getting your at-bats and playing every day is important for development. But just being in the big leagues and learning from Edgar [Renteria] and Miguel [Cairo] -- guys that have been there and done that -- I think that's important as well."