What to Expect When You’re Expecting Nelson Velázquez: Waveland-Bound Power

What to Expect When You're Expecting Nelson Velázquez: Waveland-Bound Power

As the Cubs continue to be pushed to the limit on their depth, it appears Nelson Velázquez will be the latest Cubs prospect to join the team in Chicago. He’s up today for the double-header against the Brewers.

Velázquez is coming up, fittingly, with his last minor league game being his best since joining Triple-A Iowa. He’s held the top position in my Five Stars many, many times for the last year, and also won MVP in the Arizona Fall League with an incredible performance. I wrote at the time about the elite company his performance in that league put him in, and how that might suggest a brighter future than his presence in prospect rankings suggests. It led to him securing a 40-man roster spot in November.

Velazquez, 23, was my tenth-ranked prospect in the system in my latest rankings earlier this month.

A fifth-round pick in 2017 out of a PJ Education School in Puerto Rico, Velázquez was then a thin-but-strong player with a nice blend of power and speed. Signing scout Edwards Guzman talked about a fantastic batting practice he took as an amateur at Wrigley Field. His stock of him jumped in 2018 when he showed both skills with the short-season Eugene Emeralds, notching 11 home runs and 12 steals in 72 games with the club.

But when Velázquez returned in 2019, he’d become so strong that it had seemed to sap a lot of his athleticism. The defense began to look fringy, stolen bases were no longer a threat, and oddly, his growing strength was not translating in the power department. Things were trending the wrong way.

The story of Nelson’s rise since then is one of taking ownership of your career. During the 2020 shutdown, Velázquez really worked hard, getting more baseball reps than almost anyone in the organization, and re-discovering some of that lost athleticism. Velázquez is barrel-chested like few others, with big, strong arms and thighs.

When he came back in 2021, Velázquez could again be trusted in center field, though I think his best fit is in right field, where his fabulous throwing arm allows him to pile up assists (18 in 201 professional games in right). While his initial burst of speed is n’t elite, Velázquez runs well once he gets going, and made numerous good plays going into the gaps last year.

But the big thing that occurred during 2021 was a swing change that Sahadev Sharma brilliantly outlined last winter at The Athletic. The Cubs have been careful to keep some of the specifics under the hood, but you can see the obvious parts here, as he’s lowered his hands and simplified their pre-swing movement, and his bat path from him is now among the flattest in the entire organization:

With those swing changes in hand, Velázquez was near-instantly able to access the raw power he’d hinted at for half-a-decade. In 202 games since the start of the 2021 season (High-A, Double-A, AFL, PRWL, Caribbean Series, Triple-A), Velázquez has hit 43 home runs (and 45 doubles-plus-triples). His max exit velocities were the best in the farm system last year.

There are few players I’ve ever tracked in professional baseball that run more hot and cold than Velázquez does; it’s something that many in the organization I’ve spoken with point out. While he’s much more thoughtful about his plate approach to him in the past (and his rising BB% of him over the years tells you that), Velázquez is still somebody who sometimes sees beach balls at the plate, and sometimes sees marbles.

The question for Velázquez’s viability in the Major Leagues is pretty much the same calculus as it is for Patrick Wisdom. He’ll walk a little more than Wisdom, probably, and I think you’d have to guess the HR/PA rate is at least a little lower. But, like Wisdom, so much is going to come down to whether the strikeout rate is closer to thirty than forty. That difference just might be the entire key.

Like with Christopher Morel, my expectation is that we’ll just see Velázquez in Chicago for a short time. But, like with Morel, perhaps he can play his way into David Ross’ heart and future plans. He certainly has the raw skills to do so.

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