Because of the timing of the games in Arizona and because of other obligations on Friday night, I wasn’t able to note and discuss Nelson Velazquez’s huge Friday game until Saturday afternoon. The surging Cubs outfield prospect had hit another homer, and it provided a nice opportunity to get into what a huge Arizona Fall League season he was having.
Well, again, because of the timing, his Mesa Solar Sox had another game just a couple hours after I’d published about Friday. So what did Nelson Velazquez do on Saturday? He homered again. Of course:
— MLB’s Arizona Fall League (@MLBazFallLeague) October 30, 2021
Photos of the #Cubs Nelson Velazquez hitting his AFL lead tying 5th HR of the campaign for the Mesa Solar Sox! He also went 3-4 with a BB on the day. #AFL2021 #MiLB #CubsProspects pic.twitter.com/FwC5TJ0LoN
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) October 31, 2021
That shot came as part of ANOTHER huge day – 3-4 with the homer and a walk – which boosted Velazquez’s OPS in the league to an absurd 1.332. Yes, offense is very inflated in the AFL, but that is the top OPS in the league. Yes, in the prospect-laden AFL, it is breakout Cubs outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez who has posted the best line so far. That is so fun to say.
Obviously the results (since the promotion to Double-A at the start of August, and what preceded it) have been incredible, but what you really want to know is whether Velazquez is getting the results *because of some change or development* rather than just being a heater tied to something more transient. You want it to be that something clicked and is sustainable:
My son will tell you that I am not a hitting coach, no matter how hard I try, but I have no doubt the development of Nelson Velazquez’ bat path is part of his breakout. These four images are helpful for seeing that, I think (real hitting coaches welcome). pic.twitter.com/wA7vnabHo0
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) October 31, 2021
We’ll see, not only as the AFL goes on, but as we head into 2022 and Velazquez faces more consistent, polished, experienced pitching at Triple-A. Velazquez can hit the crap out of the ball, and that part of his game (absent injury) probably isn’t going away. But this period of time where he isn’t also striking out at a scary rate is relatively brief. When he faces that more experienced pitching – the kind that is much more able to execute to whatever holes he has – will the strikeout rate spike to an unsustainable level? That will be the big question in the first half of next year, and thus is going to be the primary developmental focus over the next six months, I would imagine. (Heck, likely already has been.)
Meanwhile, I have to give a shout to Velazquez’s teammate Andy Weber once again, because he *ALSO* had yet another big game – 2-4 with a triple and a walk – and is now hitting .341/.491/.610, good for the third best OPS in the league among hitters with at least 50 PAs. He trails only Velazquez and Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, who has played 58 games in the big leagues. I still think Weber is a really tough Rule 5 protection call, but if he keeps hitting like this through the end of the AFL, it’s gonna be a lot less crazy if the Cubs do decide to protect him (especially if his down 2021 Double-A season was even more injury-impacted than we know). The Cubs did bring him to big league Spring Training as a non-roster invite this past year, despite him not having played above A-ball at the time. That probably says a lot.
Also saying a lot? The Mesa Solar Sox have been hitting Weber and Velazquez 2-3 in the batting order, all the more clearly indicating how they are perceived by the staff there (remember, it’s not JUST a Cubs prospect team!).