Chicago Cubs: Former infielder Luis Valbuena dies at age 33

(Photo by Trevor Brown, Jr./Getty Images)
(Photo by Trevor Brown, Jr./Getty Images) /

According to multiple reports, former Chicago Cubs infielder Luis Valbuena has passed away at age 33 following a car crash in his home country of Venezuela.

Here at Cubbies Crib, we are saddened to learn of the passing of former Chicago Cubs infielder Luis Valbuena and fellow former big leaguer Jose Castillo, after the pair was involved in an automobile accident in Venezuela on Thursday.

According to reports, the vehicle they were traveling in either hit something on the roadway or swerved to avoid said object, causing the vehicle to leave the road. Another ballplayer, Carlos Rivero and the chauffeur of the vehicle both survived.

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Valbuena last appeared in the majors this year with the Los Angeles Angels, hitting just .199 with a .588 OPS in 266 at-bats. But it wasn’t that long ago he was putting up respectable numbers at the big league level. In 2016, his first season with the Houston Astros, Valbuena smacked 13 homers, drove in 40 runs and turned in a career-best .816 OPS.

Holding down the hot corner

Of course, most of us here remember him for his stint on the North Side of Chicago. In April 2012, the Cubs picked Valbuena up off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. He made his Cubs debut on June 14 that year, going 0-for-3 in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. His first hit as a Cub, a home run, came two days.

The left-handed swinging infielder went on to play a critical placeholder role as Theo Epstein revamped the farm system through the draft. In 2013, the year Chicago selected Kris Bryant with their first-round pick, Valbuena held down the hot corner for the Cubs, hitting 12 homers – which, at the time, set a new career-high.

In 2014, Valbuena really ate the lion’s share of playing time, appearing in 149 games for Chicago and showing he belonged in Major League Baseball. He raised his average roughly 30 points from the year prior, hitting .249, and ripped 33 doubles to go along with 16 home runs, 51 RBI and 68 runs.

Forming the bridge in Houston, as well

That marked Valbuena’s last season with the Chicago Cubs. With a surging Kris Bryant tearing up Minor League pitching, the team knew it was about time to hand the reins to their young top prospect. In January 2015, the team traded Valbuena and right-hander Dan Straily to the Houston Astros in exchange for Dexter Fowler.

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Of course, Fowler went on to become a critical piece of both the 2015 and 2016 clubs, helping the franchise erase its 108-year championship drought. Meanwhile, Valbuena went on to hold a similar role in Houston as he did on the North Side – holding down the fort while Houston groomed top prospect Alex Bregman.

Our thoughts are with all those affected by this terrible tragedy.