The Twins have been searching for an everyday third baseman since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season. But thanks to Danny Valencia's stellar rookie campaign in 2010, the club may have found its solution at the position for years to come.
Valencia's impressive first season in the Majors earned him a spot in the field of contenders for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award, and though he was a long shot to win the trophy, he definitely earned consideration for the honor.
Valencia finished third in the balloting for this year's honors, won by Texas closer Neftali Feliz, who garnered 20 of 28 first-place votes. Detroit outfielder Austin Jackson, who received the other eight first-place votes, finished second. Valencia received one second-place vote and nine third-place votes.
While Valencia didn't win the award, it won't take away from what was a strong first season in the Majors. Valencia, who turned 26 on Sept. 19, batted .311 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage while providing a solid glove at third base. He hit seven home runs, including two grand slams, and 18 doubles in 85 games for the Twins while driving in 40 runs.
Considered one of the Twins' top prospects heading into the 2010 season, Valencia got his first opportunity in the Majors at the start of June when Michael Cuddyer was placed on the bereavement list. At the time, Valencia's stay was expected to be just a few days, but injuries to other players prolonged it and the rookie eventually earned a regular spot in the lineup.
Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Valencia hadn't gotten off to a strong start at Triple-A Rochester. He batted .292 with 15 doubles but no home runs in 49 games for the Red Wings. There were questions as to where his power had gone. But the slow start turned into what was an incredible season for Valencia, and he wound up finishing the year as a candidate to join the Twins who've won Rookie of the Year honors: Tony Oliva (1964), Rod Carew (1967), John Castino (1979), Chuck Knoblauch (1991) and Marty Cordova (1995).
"He's learned the game and how to handle himself," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Valencia toward the end of the 2010 season. "He's listened to other hitters, he's watched film of pitchers. The physical ability is there. When we got him up here he was willing to listen and he worked. He is a nice looking player."
al rookie of the year voting
How the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted for the American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.
Neftali Feliz, TEX
Austin Jackson, DET
Danny Valencia, MIN
Wade Davis, TB
John Jaso, TB
Brennan Boesch, DET
Brian Matusz, BAL
One thing that hampered Valencia's candidacy for Rookie of the Year was the fact that he didn't spend a full season in the Majors. And while Valencia never headed back to the Minors after his callup, it took a little bit of time for him to gain an everyday spot in the lineup. Once he did, though, Valencia wound up playing a key part in the Twins' success.
In 65 games after the All-Star break, Valencia ranked first among American League rookies in batting (.311), RBIs (37) and doubles (16). He was also second in hits (75) and third in home runs (seven) over that span.
"He's made a difference in a lot of games, and single-handedly won a handful," starter Kevin Slowey said during the final month of the season. "It's been great for us. He was a guy that everybody knew he had the talent and it would just be a matter of time of getting up here and getting some repetitions."
And though the Twins might not have added another Rookie of the Year winner to the organization, thanks to Valencia they'll head into this winter for the first time in a number of years without a question mark at third base.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.