READING - A year ago at this time, Sebastian Valle was considered the best catching prospect in the Phillies' farm system.
Now, he might be considered the second-best catching prospect on the double-A Reading club and the third best in the system.
That's a mighty fall for the 22-year-old Mexican native who caught the attention of everyone in the organization when he hit 16 home runs as a 19-year-old catcher with single-A Lakewood in 2010.
He lost his status as the top catching prospect at the trade deadline last July, when the Phillies acquired Tommy Joseph from the San Francisco Giants in the Hunter Pence deal. Valle was promoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley for the final month, and Joseph, 21, joined the Reading squad.
Those assignments were reversed at the start of this season, a clear indication of how the Phillies view the two catchers. The Phillies also almost traded Valle to Houston during the offseason, but a deal for reliever Wilton Lopez was nixed after the pitcher went through a physical examination in Philadelphia. Lopez ended up being traded to Colorado.
"It has been a little bit difficult," Valle said during a recent interview at Reading. "I was getting ready to play and then they sent me here. They told me I'd play every day and I don't play every day. It's a little bit difficult, but I'm trying to make the adjustment and get ready. I did feel a little bit confusion because I played triple A last year and I come back to double A."
Valle is sharing time at catcher with Cameron Rupp, a third-round pick in the 2010 draft who may end up hitting for more power than Valle and Joseph. Entering the weekend, Valle and Rupp had each started 19 games at catcher. Rupp had been the designated hitter eight times, while Valle was in the lineup as a DH six times. Valle also had one start in left field early in the season, but that's not the Phillies' long-term plan for him.
Valle said he'd be open to playing more left field if that meant more playing time.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "I want to play baseball. I want to get more at-bats. I want to get in rhythm. I can play outfield. I did it in winter ball."
After hitting a combined .253 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs last season at Reading and Lehigh Valley, Valle got off to a terrible start this season, batting .161 in April. He has been much better in May, hitting .286 in nine games.
Valle said he does not feel unwanted after an offseason in which he was almost traded.
"All I want is an opportunity to play in the big leagues," he said. "I don't feel like they want to trade me or want to do something different with me. That happens sometimes, but my job is just to work hard at hitting and behind the plate catching. If I do a good job, they will give me the opportunity."
Despite taking a step down on the minor-league ladder, Valle did get a chance to play with some big-leaguers during the World Baseball Classic. He was the catcher when Mexico and Canada got involved in a nasty brawl in the ninth inning of a March 9 game.
Phillies pitcher Phillippe Aumont, a member of Team Canada, criticized Valle in a Twitter post immediately after the game, claiming the catcher had swung his mask at Canadian players during the brawl. Aumont later apologized for the tweet when he rejoined the Phillies.
Valle said he has not talked to Aumont about the incident.
"It's just the adrenaline and the intensity," he said. "It happened. It was a big [Mexican deficit] and then they bunted. That's fine. If he wants to talk to me like that, it's OK. But he's my teammate and I respect him and I hope he respects me. I saw he put something on Twitter. I don't have Twitter. So what can I do? I respect him. It's fine."
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