CLEARWATER, Fla. — As Brock Stassi cried tears of joy in a corner of the Phillies' clubhouse Thursday afternoon, overcome with happiness at making the major-league roster, Jesmuel Valentin quietly packed his bag at a nearby locker. The Puerto Rican infielder was not disappointed; Valentin played so well this spring that he forced the Phillies to demote him to triple-A Lehigh Valley rather than stash him on the big-league bench.
"I have to think about what is going to be best for my career, so that was the best decision, to be playing every day in triple A," Valentin said. "I'm only 22 years old. I need those ABs, so I know they want the best for me and the best for the team."
Valentin will be the regular second baseman at Lehigh Valley, where he will team with double-play partner J.P. Crawford. Second base, all of a sudden, looks like one of the deepest positions in the organization. Cesar Hernandez, 26, led the Phillies last season in on-base percentage. Valentin, acquired in a minor trade three Augusts ago, showed strong instincts. Scott Kingery, 22, also played well in his first big-league camp. He'll be at double-A Reading.
That Valentin remained in camp until the penultimate day was a testament to how good his first impression was. General manager Matt Klentak said he had not seen much of Valentin in the minors last season.
Valentin hit .366 with a .422 on-base percentage and .512 slugging percentage in 45 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It was his first big-league camp. Regarded as a good defender, Valentin has a career .348 on-base percentage in the minors.
"Sometimes you come in and players surprise you," Klentak said, "and that's a good thing when it's this way."
"We were thinking about him," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "But he's too young and too good of a player. He has to play."
Valentin departed for the minors with an optimistic outlook. He could reach the majors in 2017, especially because he's the only reserve infielder on a crowded 40-man roster. If there is an injury in the majors, he could come to the Phillies.