In 2007, the Dayton Dragons opened the season by winning their first nine games. On May 7, the Dragons record was an incredible 23-4. While no one would ever predict a start to a season like that one, there were indications that the 2007 Dragons could be a special team.
Every season, most Dragons players climb the ladder to Dayton after playing with the Reds Rookie-level affiliate in the Pioneer League, the Billings Mustangs. In 2006, the Mustangs posted a spectacular record of 51-25. They won both halves in the Pioneer League's split-season format and kept getting better as the season progressed. Their second half record was 28-10. Their best player was shortstop Chris Valaika, who was selected as the league's Most Valuable Player. Valaika put together a 32-game hitting streak that broke the Pioneer League record. He, along with many of his Billings teammates like Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, Juan Francisco, Justin Turner, Logan Parker, Jordan Smith, and Travis Webb moved to Dayton for 2007. The Dragons roster was stacked.
As the 2007 Dragons enjoyed one of the finest starts to a Midwest League season in league history, Valaika again led the way, doing his best imitation of Rogers Hornsby, the last middle infielder to hit at least .400, way back in 1925. Multi-hit games were the norm for Valaika. Nineteen games into the season, with the Dragons in the early stages of a 10-game winning streak, Valaika was batting .411. A full month into the season, he was at .396. He was the Reds Minor League Player of the Month for April and the starting shortstop for the East Division All-Star Team.
Valaika did cool down a bit as the season moved along, but his average never dropped below .300 with the Dragons. He finished the first half at .318 and after 12 games in the second half, the Reds promoted Valaika to Sarasota. He was batting .307 with 10 home runs and 56 runs batted in. Despite exiting the league on July 2, Valaika was still chosen as the shortstop on the full-season Midwest League All-Star Team.
After the 2007 season, Baseball America listed Valaika as the #13 prospect in the Reds organization and their #1 middle infield prospect. He was ranked just ahead of Zack Cozart and Paul Janish, two players who would one day stake claim to starting shortstop jobs for the Reds. Baseball America noted Valaika's strengths.
"Valaika stands out most for his bat and makeup…(his) bat should pave his way to the big leagues, where he profiles as an offensive second baseman or utility man."
Valaika opened the 2008 season with Sarasota and batted .363 in 32 games to earn a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. He hit .301 with the Lookouts and finished the year with a combined average of .317 with 18 home runs and 81 RBI. He was named Reds Minor League Player of the Year. Baseball America moved Valaika up to the #4 prospect in the Reds organization.
Valaika moved on to Triple-A in 2009 and endured his first frustration as a professional. After 23 games, he was batting .161 when he suffered a broken hand that caused him to miss the next six weeks. He hit .260 after the injury and finished the year at .235 with six homers and 36 RBI. He was added to the Reds 40-man roster after the season.
In 2010, Valaika made the move from shortstop to second base and bounced back with a good season at Louisville. On August 23, he was batting .304 for the Bats and earned a promotion to Cincinnati. He made his debut with the Reds and picked up his first big league hit in his first game as a pinch hitter for Nick Masset. In his third game, he hit his first big league home run off the Cubs Tom Gorzelanny. He had hits in six of his first seven Major League games and was batting .360 after one week in the Majors. He finished the year at .263 in 19 games.
Valaika spent most of the 2011 season at Louisville and was an International League mid-season all-star. He hit .261 for the Bats and also appeared in 14 games for the Reds, batting .280. Valaika spent all of 2012 with Louisville, enduring a tough year in which he batted .223. After the season, Valaika left the Reds organization as a Minor League free agent and signed with the Miami Marlins. He is currently in Major League camp with the Marlins as a non-roster player.
Valaika is still just 27 years old and could be in line to get an opportunity with the re-building Marlins. Stuck behind Reds perennial stand-out Brandon Phillips in the Cincinnati organization, it was going to be tough for Valaika to find playing time at the big league level. He put together one of the finest months for one of the best Dragons teams in club history, and he became the 46th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. Next up: Todd Frazier.
Click here for Chris Valaika's Major League Statistics, photos, and video highlights.
Click here for Chris Valaika's Minor League Statistics.