Cubs Prospect Nelson Velazquez Continues Arizona Fall League Tear
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—After scuffling early in his pro career, Nelson Velazquez is starting to put everything together.
The 22-year-old Cubs outfield prospect hit .270 with 20 home runs, 73 RBIs and an .829 OPS across High-A and Double-A this year. He led all Cubs minor leaguers with 191 total bases and finished in the top three in the system in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and OPS. He did it all while recording 12 outfield assists and playing a better-than-expected center field.
The crisp fall weather has done little to cool Velazquez off. If anything, he’s getting hotter.
Velazquez went 3-for-3 with a double and three RBIs on Thursday to carry Mesa to a 3-1 win over Salt River and continue his scorching Arizona Fall League campaign. Velazquez is now batting .385 with a 1.191 OPS, both second in the league. He leads the league in hits (40), runs (24), extra-base hits (16) and home runs (nine) and is the odds-on favorite to win AFL Most Valuable Player.
“I just try to find a way to be good and do what I can do,” Velazquez said. “A lot of people know what I can do. I know what I can do. I just put my work on the field and that’s what’s helping me.”
A fifth-round pick in 2017 out of Puerto Rico, Velazquez hit .236 and .231, respectively, in each of his first two seasons at the lowest levels of the minors. He began to show signs of a turnaround at High-A South Bend in 2019 but was limited to 72 games by a strained oblique. He was not invited to the Cubs alternate training site and was left to work out on his own at home in Puerto Rico.
Velazquez wasn’t completely off the radar—he entered the 2021 season as the Cubs No. 28 prospect. Still, the idea that he would be one of the most productive hitters in the entire organization seemed unlikely.
But after making swing changes to flatten his bat path and keep his barrel in the zone longer, that’s exactly what he became.
“Everything changed,” Velazquez said. “My swing changed. My mind changed. In 2020 in quarantine I put my work in the field everyday so I can do what I’m doing right now.”
Now, Velazquez is showing off what he can do on a prominent stage in the Fall League. He’s hitting fastballs and breaking balls, pitches high and low, inside and outside and even off the plate. He has multiple hits in half—13 of 26—of his games.
“I think what he’s done a great job of here in the Fall League is controlling the strike zone,” said Mesa hitting coach Tim Gibbons, the Orioles’ Triple-A hitting coach. “He’s done a great job laying off the offspeed low and away, so he’s really seeing the ball up, getting his heaters and not missing them. Especially the sliders low away was something I talked to the Cubs hitting coordinator about, so he’s been very diligent in his efforts of laying off that pitch and making sure they come to his zone, and he’s not missing it when they do.”
Velazquez got the scoring started in the bottom of the first when he stayed back on an elevated Shumpei Yoshikawa changeup and drilled it into the left-center gap for an RBI double. The ball came off his bat at 111.1 mph, his hardest hit ball of the game.
In the third inning, Velazquez took a fastball on the outside corner the other way for an RBI single to make it 2-0 Mesa. In the fifth inning, he ripped another RBI single up the middle that came off his bat at 107.8 mph.
In those three at-bats, Velazquez drove in all of Mesa’s runs.
“I was just looking for the fastball,” he said. “If you’re ready for the fastball, you’re going to be ready for the breaking ball as well. So I was just looking for the fastball and that helped me be really good.”
Now, Velazquez has two big days ahead of him. On Friday, he will learn whether the Cubs have added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. On Saturday, he will play in the AFL Championship Game after guiding the Solar Sox to first place in the East Division as their cleanup hitter and starting right fielder.
Velazquez’s present is exceptionally bright. More and more, he’s starting to gain believers that his future will be bright, too.
“He’s in the middle of our lineup for a reason, “ Gibbons said, “and I expect him to be in the middle of the Cubs lineup for a long time.”