Why the Cubs are keeping Nelson Velázquez after activating Cody Bellinger from paternity list
David Ross and the Cubs have always talked about liking to make difficult choices.
“The more tough ones we have, that’s a good thing,” Ross said back in spring when discussing Javier Assad’s play in the World Baseball Classic and how he could fit on the roster.
This time, it was Nelson Velázquez forcing their hand. The second-year outfielder has been terrific in his two — albeit short — stints at the major league level, going 6-for-13 (.462) with 2 home runs and 5 RBI. He’s reached base at a whopping .563 clip and has looked more confident in the outfield defensively this season.
“I think the WBC probably really helped him, being around a group of professionals that know how to handle themselves and their at-bats,” Ross said on Wednesday. “I think he just has a lot of confidence in himself and has actually seen that play out a little bit more this year with his success in Triple-A.”
Velázquez was recalled from Iowa on Tuesday to take the place of Cody Bellinger, who was placed on the paternity list. It appeared that his stay in the majors would be short — just like his first trip up a few weeks ago. But the hot play forced the Cubs to make one of those “tough” decisions.
The team activated Bellinger prior to Friday’s opener in Miami, but instead of optioning Velázquez, chose to designate catcher Luis Torrens for assignment. Additionally, Ross announced Friday in Miami that Caleb Kilian will be recalled and start Saturday’s game against the Marlins.
David Ross announces Caleb Kilian will start tomorrow for the #Cubs.— Taylor McGregor (@Taylor_McGregor) April 28, 2023
The Cubs valued Torrens — so much so that he made the team out of Spring Training, the team seeing the value in carrying a third catcher like they did last season with P.J. Higgins. Torrens had an assignment clause in the minor-league deal he signed in the winter and the Cubs felt strongly that another team would take him at the end of spring. That, coupled with a strong offensive showing in Arizona, led the team to add him to their Opening Day roster. But just a month later, the Cubs are showing faith in and rewarding Velázquez for his stellar play and belief that he can continue to contribute at the big-league level.
“I do think [Velázquez is] moving really well and free,” Ross said on Thursday. “I just think he’s definitely those steps forward and the at-bats look really good to follow it. Very nice complete player right now.”
Velázquez will serve as the team’s fourth outfielder — and a natural outfielder, too. They’ve carried just two or three regular outfielders at any one time this season, starting the year with Bellinger and Ian Happ, then adding Seiya Suzuki after they optioned Velázquez. That will allow them to rest any of their three starters, play Velázquez and not see too much of a drop defensively in the pasture.
All season, the Cubs have been predicated on pitching and defense, so being able rest players and not see a drop with their glovework will be crucial — keeping Velázquez on the roster ensures that. And it’s thanks to his work that forced the Cubs’ hand.
“Confidence just goes a long way in our game,” Ross said. “When he came up last time, he had the big game [grand slam against Seattle in a 7-run comeback] and didn’t play again. This time coming up and just trusting himself. Going back down, doing well in Triple-A and that trust and experience he had in last year, just slowing the moment down, staying calm and having his at-bat has really stood out to me so far this season.”