(This is the third and final part of a three-part series of articles, chronicling Chase Vallot‘s history in the Kansas City Royals organization. In this article, we take a look at Vallot’s 2019 performance, his struggles in 2018, how he worked through them, and his outlook on the game, in general.)
Back in Lexington for 2019, Vallot got off to a reasonably-good start. In 17 games during April, he slashed .250/.342/.578 (.921 OPS), with five doubles, two triples, four homers and thirteen RBI in 64 at-bats. Still, the strikeouts plagued him (27 in 73 PA, vs. 7 walks). May was extremely tough for him, as his strikeout frequency increased (41 in 79 PA), though his .732 OPS helped to balance his numbers out. Vallot’s numbers for the second half of May look odd, at first glance: a .167 BA, but a .908 OPS (.375 OBP, .533 SLG), even while his BABIP dropped 167 points (.417 from May 2nd-14th, .250 from 16th-30th). His overall slash line was buoyed by his numbers from the 14th to the 21st, when he drew seven walks against eleven strikeouts, batting .267/.542/.667 (1.208 OPS).
The month of June was truly a difficult month for Vallot, even considering May’s results. Appearing in only fifteen games in June, he slashed .200/.300/.340 (.640 OPS), striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances (27 in 60 PA) versus only four walks, with only three extra-base hits. Despite this, July was far worse; a .128/.241/.170 line (.411 OPS) while he maintained a .375 BABIP seemed bizarre. He struck out at an even more frequent rate (31 in 55 PA, four walks). Now with a week and a half left in August, Vallot finds himself in a 2-30 slump.
With 75 games under his belt in 2019, Vallot is very much the hitter he has always shown himself to be: 24 of his 45 hits have gone for extra bases. Perhaps every bit as concerning as the strikeouts is his terribly-low walk total. Even when he struck out 151 times in 353 plate appearances in 2018 between Wilmington and Idaho Falls, he still walked enough (45) to boost his OBP up to .320, 136 points higher than his .184 batting average, and his .713 OPS was somewhat redemptive.
While he played at Low-A in 2015 and 2016, he is still only 22 years old now, and thus only 0.5 years older than the average batter at this level. Hindsight being what it is, perhaps the Royals promoted him too aggressively; he was only eighteen in his first season with the Legends, and twenty when he first appeared in Wilmington, 3.6 and 2.6 years younger than the average batter, respectively, at those levels, and catchers often take longer to develop. On the other hand, when you’re the 40th-overall pick in the draft, an aggressive promotion is certainly not uncommon.
The strikeouts continued to plague him, even though he had obviously made adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, as well as in the middle of plate appearances. He had clearly worked hard on pitch recognition and adjusting his swing, based on expectations depending on the count. More often than before, Vallot showed a willingness to shorten his swing in two-strike counts. Even so, his change in approach has yet to show statistical results.
It’s awfully easy for those with an outside point of view can draw conclusions as to how a player handles adversity. Whatever has been going through his mind, this year, Vallot won’t ever let on that he’s been worried or depressed. He continues to insist that he’s just taking things one game at a time, trying to remain even-keeled regardless of his performance. The Chase Vallot of 2015 appeared much the same, and while he’s five years older now (he turns 23 on August 21st), he seemed just as level-headed at age eighteen as he does now. It’s a long season, and getting too up or too down is ultimately self-defeating.
All the analysis in the world doesn’t change the reality of the situation: Vallot is in his sixth year as a pro, and is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, this year. In order to retain him, the Royals will have to re-sign him to a minor-league contract, assuming he isn’t selected in the Draft (see Alex Duvall’s Rule 5 Draft/40-Man Roster Google Docs post from April 30th). As things stand now, it’s unlikely that he’ll be selected, as it would require that he be placed on the selecting team’s 25-man roster and thus would be in the big leagues for at least ninety days. If selected, then waived, he could potentially return to the Royals, or would be sent to the selecting team’s minor leagues if he clears waivers. He may be released, altogether.
Once again, the power potential, as well as the current game-time power he’s demonstrated, is tantalizing. Sometimes, a player will have an unpredictable breakthrough or some sort of sudden epiphany, and then it all comes together. If that were to happen with Vallot, he would be quite an addition for any organization. But it seems, at the moment, to be a fairly big “if”.
So how does a player like Vallot handle this sort of adversity? How does he deal with the questions and concerns, the ever-declining stats, and a third go-round in Low-A, after playing 136 games in High-A?
Very well, as it turns out. But it didn’t start that way.
“The very first game of the (2018) season, I went 0-4 with four strikeouts,” Vallot recalled. “I guess that kind of set the tone for the season. I kind of got off to a mentally bad start. And one thing just kept leading to another. No matter how much work I put in, how much time I spent in the cage, all of that stuff…it just felt like I kept reverting to falling into that mental trap.”
“It wasn’t a fun place to be. It definitely took a toll on me, mentally, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to be “OK, whatever happens, happens”. I didn’t know how to forget about it. I continued to show up to the field—one of the first ones, everyday—go to the cage. I had the same routine; I just couldn’t find that one specific, little thing that was wrong.”
Having come off of a difficult year, previously, Vallot said that his faith helped to keep him in a positive frame of mind.
“I’m a firm believer in God and Jesus,” Vallot said. “I really think that I’m going through this for a reason. Whatever that reason is, I’ll probably never figure out. But I know there’s a bigger meaning behind the struggle from last year (2018), so as of right now, my mental state is unbelievable.”
He also mentioned how his faith has helped him keep things in their proper perspective.
“I just feel as if I’m in a much better place, right now. Basically, I kind of have that attitude that it’s just a game. I try always to have fun, no matter what happens.”
Vallot is quick to credit hitting coach Leon Roberts (roving minor-league hitting instructor) for improving his approach at the plate, and helping him to adjust better to off-speed offerings.
“One of the things that helped a lot, last year was that I went and worked with (Roberts), and it was just like a new world opening for me, from a mental standpoint, as far as hitting. This whole time, I thought there was something wrong with my swing, mechanically, but it’s just all between my ears. I learned how to have little victories.”
“We’re not going to be perfect in this game. We’re not going to bat .500 or 1.000. The great ones bat .300. So if you square up for the ball—even if you go 0-4—if you hit the ball hard, that’s your job. You can’t control anything after the ball is hit. That’s where I’m at, right now: put together four good at-bats, per night. Whatever happens, I take it.”
“It was definitely tough. It almost broke me. But it didn’t. So after dealing with that, I feel like I can handle anything.”
“I just feel like I have a different pizzazz now. Like, how I feel and act after the game, or when I leave the field. I don’t let that affect me.”
Having endured such a long struggle, offensively, Vallot has returned to the game with a different outlook. He was able to work on more than just the mechanical aspects of hitting, as well, during his absence from the field.
“I was able to work with the Royals’ mental coach, and it’s basically along the lines of the hitting coach’s work,” Vallot added, comparing the mental aspect of the approach to hitting to the physical, and how they compliment one another.
His final comment was an affirmation. Vallot has overcome a great deal, and has struggles ahead of him, but he concluded his thoughts:
“I like where I’m at, now.”
The Legends end their regular season on September 4th. They’ll face off against the second-half champs in the playoffs, beginning two days later. The off-season may hold new challenges, and, perhaps, a new organization and new teammates, come 2019. But whatever his future holds, Vallot has grown to be significantly more prepared for those challenges.
And whatever happens, it seems that he’ll be ready for it.