Cesar Valdez of the Los Angeles Angels pitches against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers won 10-5. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Right-handed relief pitcher Cesar Valdez will play for the Leones de Yucatan of Liga Mexicana de Beisbol in the Baseball Champions League. The 38-year-old journeyman has played in six countries in his 18-year professional baseball career.
Valdez spent the 2018 and 2019 Liga Mexicana de Beisbol seasons with the Leones de Yucatán. He had a 2.97 ERA in 36.1 innings in 2018 and a 2.26 ERA in 147.2 innings in 2019. Valdez was in a starting role for Leones de Yucatan, but only made six starts in 69 career Major League Baseball games.
Valdez signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as an international free agent in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2010. He did not play in another MLB game until 2017 with the Oakland Athletics. His best statistical season in Major League Baseball was 2021 with the Baltimore Orioles. However, he had a relatively high 5.87 ERA in 46 innings. With Baltimore, he was a reliable innings-eater and induced an above-MLB average ground ball rate (47.3%). According to Baseball Reference, the average MLB rate is 43.8 percent.
Valdez played the 2023 season with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, posting a 7.11 ERA and allowing 21 home runs in 32 games. Valdez had a much better season in 2022 with Salt Lake, recording a 3.94 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 146.1 innings.
Valdez primarily throws his changeup first before his fastball. According to Statcast.com, he used his changeup 75% of the time in 2021, fastball 20%, and slider five percent. His changeup averaged 50.8 inches of vertical movement in 2021, which was 17% better than the Major League Baseball average (per Statcast).
“The first time we faced him, the hitters were like, ‘This is not your typical changeup,’” former Boston Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers told FanGraphs in 2021. “It’s almost like a unique curveball because it gets to home plate and just dives. And at times, it can dive both ways; it can break in or break out. The guys have probably talked about him more than anybody else so far in this season.”
“It’s not a normal changeup,” former Baltimore Orioles catcher Pedro Severino told Joe Trezza and David Adler of MLB.com. “I call it a slider-changeup because I don’t know where it’s going.”
Valdez will play a pivotal role for Leones de Yucatan in the Baseball Champions League. His veteran leadership and reliable arm will be critical throughout the tournament.
The Baseball Champions League Invitational will be held from September 28 to October 1 in Yucatan, Mexico. Leones de Yucatan will host the tournament at their home stadium, Kukulcan Alamo Ballpark, in Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan.