Vallejo excels on the basepaths

Vallejo stole 47 bases in 50 tries

Second baseman Jose Vallejo recently finished up his second season with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings. In addition to flashing his usual outstanding defense, the switch-hitter batted .269 with 47 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 21-year-old prospect at instructionals in Surprise, Ariz.

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"I had a lot of things I worked on to get ready for the season, especially stealing bases," said Jose Vallejo, through the translation of Michael Ortiz. "I felt that was the number one thing for me this year and I accomplished my goal. I stole 47 bases and I'm happy with my year in Clinton."

After stealing 24 bases in 33 attempts with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings in 2006, Vallejo returned to swipe 47 in 50 tries – a sparkling 94% success rate – while repeating the Midwest League in '07. The speedster credits part of his success to just simply knowing his role.

"The first thing is that I know what my game is," said Vallejo. "I'm a team player and I know my game is putting the bunts down, getting infield hits, base hits, and stealing bases. My job is to steal the bags, score runs, and help my team win. I feel I did a good job."

The Rangers chose to make Vallejo – a natural righty – a switch-hitter in an effort to capitalize on his outstanding speed and "small-ball" skills. The native of the Dominican Republic says he began doing it in 2005 and had success from the start.

"My first game hitting lefty – they asked me to hit lefty and I didn't want to," he said. "But I ended up doing it. I had three hits in that game. I ended up hitting .290 from only the left side and that was my first year doing that. It feels natural for me."

Vallejo batted .260 with 11 doubles and three triples from the left side of the plate in 2007. The 21-year-old says the left side is starting to feel more comfortable to him.

"It was a lot better than last year," said Vallejo of his left-handed experience. "I was working on it this year and I felt that it came to a point where it was almost natural to hit left-handed. I didn't have to think of what to do left-handed. It was like batting right-handed, just on the other side of the plate."

Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger agrees with the sentiment, but he admits Vallejo still has a ways to go.

"He's a good left-handed hitter but right-handed he's a little more natural," explained Boulanger. "Probably the biggest difference is that he's got more power right-handed.

"But he's getting much better. Mechanically he's much better and he can juice the ball from the left side, but he's got more power from the right. Obviously he's going to have to get a lot more at bats from the left side and that's the way it is. Vallejo has got all the tools; it's just a matter of him putting it together."

Vallejo joined the Rangers' fall instructional league team after completing his second full season with the L-Kings. Much like the regular season, the second baseman spent the majority of his time in Arizona focusing on his "small-ball" game.

"The main focus for me at instructs was getting better at bunting – dominating the bunting game," said Vallejo. "I feel instructs this year went great for me. I'm happy and I learned a lot of things. My teammates helped me and the coaching staff is great."

As the 6-foot-0, 172-pound second baseman heads back to his native Dominican Republic, he says he would like to work on gaining strength for the 2008 campaign.

"I want to mainly work on being in the best shape as possible, just like everyone else," he said. "I want to be in top, top shape and gain a couple of pounds of muscle. I want to come back bigger, stronger and faster – just a completely different physical player."

Though Vallejo is returning home, he isn't exactly going into the offseason. The 21-year-old will be playing with a team – the Azucareros del Este – in La Romana, Dominican Republic. Vallejo is excited to get the opportunity to play in front of his home fans.

"There is a lot more pressure," said Vallejo when asked to compare playing in the Dominican Winter League with the minor leagues. "There's a lot more pressure because over there it's the biggest thing. Everyone knows you and all of the games are on TV and radio. It's almost like playing in the big leagues, but in my hometown. I feel it's a lot more pressure."

When asked whether or not the opportunity will prepare him for life in the major leagues, Vallejo answered in the positive.

"Oh yeah," he said with a smile. "Yeah. Absolutely."

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