Fall Fridays: Nelson Velazquez off to a hot start in AFL
Cubs’ outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez has carried his late-season tear at Double-A into the first week of games in the 2021 Arizona Fall League. Through 4 games, he is 6-for-18 — including 3 doubles — for the Mesa Solar Sox (4-3).
Velazquez, 22, led off his AFL campaign with a 3-hit night that included a pair of doubles in a 5-0 loss for the Solar Sox. He went 2-for-4 Wednesday with another double, reached on an error and scored 4 runs in Mesa’s 11-9 victory.
While this is a small sample size thus far, the most important anecdote becomes the fact that Velazquez is hitting the ball hard in AFL so far, in line with his top exit velocity numbers from the regular season.
Marquee Sports Network’s Lance Brozdowski noted, “if a player has touched or is near their max exit velocity in a 10-20 batted ball sample, you can assume they are swinging the bat as hard as they have previously. And bat speed is king, even if he is a little below his regular season max.”
Only the strikeout rate remains a concern early on; he has 9, including a 3-strikeout game. Velazquez’s career strikeout percentage in the minor leagues is 29.9%, but he posted a career-low 25.5% rate through 34 games with the Tennessee Smokies in his Double-A debut this season. Some stability could come soon.
Through AFL action Wednesday, his swing-and-miss rate (11%) and chase rate (27%) are in line with his career norms through 4 games. In his most recent game Thursday, Velazquez went hitless but worked 4 walks and a strikeout in Mesa’s 7-6 win.
The Rule 5-eligible Velazquez played in two new minor league levels this past season, debuting at High-A South Bend and posting a .261/.321/.456 slash line with 12 home runs and 12 steals in 69 games. He was promoted to Double-A Tennessee in early August, where he managed 1 hit in his first 8 plate appearances before going on an 8-game tear, hitting .387 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 RBI on his way to being named the Cubs minor leaguer of the month.
AFL could be considered another bump in level for Velazquez, with scouts pegging competition to be something between Double- and Triple-A.
Cubs selected Velazquez in the 5th round of the 2017 draft out of PJ Education School in Carolina, Puerto Rico. That year, he was MVP of the Torneo de Excelencia Víctor Pellot in Puerto Rico, leading his team Liga Palomino to the final, where they lost to Big League, led by Giants highly-rated prospect and 1st-rounder Heliot Ramos. The tournament includes draft-eligible players from schools and academies across the island and is usually held close to draft day. Recent alumni of the tournament include Carlos Correa, Jose Berrios and Edwin Diaz.