The MLB Pipeline crew put out a ranking of the top prospects in the Arizona Fall League, which makes for an interesting exercise. As Jonathan Mayo described the process:
Finding a balance between prospects and performance is truly an inexact science. Throw in a small sample size like the one the Arizona Fall League provides and it can be even tougher. But we at MLB Pipeline aren’t afraid of a challenge. Below is a list of the Top 25 Arizona Fall League prospects, compiled by MLB Pipeline staff and with feedback from scouts who evaluated the talent in Arizona all fall. While there’s no formula, we tried to strike a balance between prospect status/upside potential and production in the AFL.
So it’s not a PURE ranking of the prospects in the AFL – this year’s small-sample performance in the AFL is a factor in this particular list – but the pure ranking (based on scouting and future potential) is definitely a big component.
The reason I mention all that at the top is because I, personally, wanted context for how high Cubs outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez ranked. Relative to the other prospects in the league, it seemed like he was ranking really quite high!
On the list, Velazquez, fresh of AFL MVP honors in a dominant fall, ranked all the way up at number eight. The seven guys ahead of him? All top 100 prospects in baseball. Heck, there were two guys ranked lower on the list who are top 100s. These are very legit prospects that Velazquez is getting grouped into.
That is not to say that Velazquez is now a top 100 prospect, or even necessarily a sure fire top 10 in the Cubs’ deep system. Instead, it is to say he really turned some heads this fall, probably even beyond his stellar results. From Mayo:
There may not be another prospect in the league who did more to raise his profile than Velazquez, the first non-Top 100 prospect on this list. The AFL MVP led the league in a host of offensive categories, including home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS, while narrowly missing out on the batting title. Most importantly, he made some real adjustments to his approach at the plate that could bode well for his future.
It’s easy to forget, but this was a guy who, at midseason, was putting up only so-so numbers at High-A South Bend, and wasn’t even really on anyone’s radar for the 40-man roster. But he just kept improving in every way as the season went on – and as he faced tougher and tougher competition – and that’s all kinds of encouraging to see in the first full year after the pandemic shutdown. Makes you think there was a lot of real development happening.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Velazquez’s hot finish to the year at Double-A, coupled with his overwhelming fall performance, move him up the Cubs prospect rankings. The big question for me is that last part Mayo mentions: how real/how sticky are the adjustments he made? We know he’s started using the whole field a little more, but what about the contact rate? Early data suggested it was still pretty low in the AFL (i.e., not a ton of contact, but ridiculously hard contact when he did make contact). I can’t wait to read the offseason scouting reports.
Meanwhile, Caleb Kilian was the other Cubs prospect to make the top 25, coming in at 21, which is still pretty darn solid for a prospect league. See the full list and write-ups here.