Some six-year olds start out as rabid baseball fans, eagerly waiting for their first opportunity to get out onto the tee-ball field and take a swing at the game they love. Top draft prospect Chase Vallot, a high-school catcher from Louisiana who some project to be taken between picks 20 and 40 in next week's draft, admits that he wasn't one of those six-year olds. In fact, Vallot may not have even gotten into baseball at all without a nudge from his parents, Chad and Renee.
"I started [playing baseball] when I was about six years old going out for tee-ball," Vallot said in a phone interview last week. "I actually didn’t want to play tee-ball, but my mom and dad forced me to play and it turned out I liked it. It has been something that I don’t regret and I thank my parents for making me play."
As Vallot grew from that reluctant six-year old to a high school senior who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisiana after hitting .545 with 13 homers during his senior season for St. Thomas More High in Lafayette, he transformed from a defensive-minded catcher to an offensive powerhouse. He is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, and compares his game to that of Yadier Molina, who he claims is his favorite player.
"He's always calm, and he's a great leader," Vallot said of Molina. "He's always developing himself as a better hitter, which is kind of similar to me. When I was younger, I was a good catcher but I couldn't hit worth a lick. In the past three or four years, I've transformed my game into being a better hitter just like him."
Vallot's offensive skills peaked a year ago at the Rawlings Home Run Challenge in Minneapolis, when he outslugged fifteen competitors--including top draft prospects Braxton Davidson, Justin Bellinger, Michael Chavis, and Handsome Monica--to be crowned the champion at the Metrodome after hitting four bombs in the final round.
"That was an incredible experience to compete with guys like Braxton Davidson and Michael Chavis," Vallot said, while adding that last summer was the first time he thought that he could become a professional baseball player. "I didn’t think I had a chance to win but the odds were in my favor, I guess."
Vallot says that his strongest abilities are his power and arm strength, and admits that he hopes to improve upon on his receiving abilities behind the plate. He has remained dedicated to his conditioning over the last year, and feels that he is in great shape in advance of the draft.
"This past fall I weighed about 225-230 and I needed to get my body back in shape," Vallot said. "I did CrossFit up until December, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It dropped me down twenty pounds, so I’m at like 205 right now. It definitely paid off."
Throughout his baseball career, Vallot's strong family unit has always served as a great support system on his journey to becoming a professional. That unit has been stronger than ever throughout the past year, using Chase's career aspirations as something positive to focus on in the face of great adversity.
"We found out this past July that [my mom] was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the day she had surgery I left to go to New York for the East Coast Pro Showcase," Vallot said. "At first, I didn’t want to go because I wanted to stay home with her, but my parents convinced me that I needed to go. I ended up having one of the best tournaments I ever had, and I got back home and she was out of surgery and recovering."
Throughout the last eleven months, Vallot has used baseball as a type of escape from the stresses of his mom's journey toward recovery. He says that she's doing better now, and that she is currently recovering from reconstructive surgery as she nears what Chase says has been a long, tough journey.
"It has been rough," Vallot said. "With all the chemo and radiation, watching her suffer. A parent doesn’t want their kid to see that, but I haven’t let it affect me. If I ever needed to get away, I’d go hit in the cage or hang out with my friends just to get my mind off of things. Overall, it has made me a lot more mentally strong. It was a tough process, I’m not gonna lie."
As Vallot thinks about which cap he will don when his name is called next Thursday or Friday, he says that the Red Sox, Royals, Astros, Marlins and Brewers have shown the most interest so far. Regardless of the logo that graces his hat on draft night, it's the motto he'll carry under that cap that he hopes to carry forward into his professional career.
"Everyone in baseball will experience tough times," Vallot said. "But only the good ones make it out of those tough times."