Cubs Prospect Notes: Velazquez's Swing Change, Kilian's Tweaks, Prospects Climbing, Rule 5 Draft, More

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Cubs Prospect Notes: Velazquez’s Swing Change, Kilian’s Tweaks, Prospects Climbing, Rule 5 Draft, More

Chicago Cubs

A variety of Cubs prospect bits to get into today, now that the Arizona Fall League is over, the winter leagues are ongoing, and prospects rankings season is arriving …

⇒ Cubs Farm Director Matt Dorey talked about the AFL, including how Nelson Velazquez’s offense evolved throughout this year (via Cubs.com): “Ultimately, it was just staying in the strike zone. Really focusing on swinging at and making solid contact on the pitches in the zone that he can drive. He really bought into that, and in Double-A, we saw the results. He was unbelievable for like 130 plate appearances there, and then we really wanted to challenge him even further in the Fall League.”

⇒ In addition to winning MVP honors for the league, Velazquez also made the All-AFL team.

⇒ More on Velazquez’s breakout, and the subtle changes to his swing:

⇒ As discussed recently, Velazquez ranked (surprisingly) favorably among all prospects in the AFL, so his standing is going to shoot up this offseason when all the various prospect rankings are completed. He might now be a top ten guy in the system on most lists, whereas he entered the 2021 season off most top 30s. I don’t think anyone in the system climbed that much outside of lefty D.J. Herz, who is also probably a back-end top 10 to most at this point, but who was probably a click higher to most folks before the season than Velazquez. Herz was getting a lot of helium for his work during the pandemic shut down – Bryan had ranked him 34th in the system before the season, whereas Velazquez was outside the top 40. (Also: don’t go back through those pre-2021 lists unless you want to be really bummed about how bad this year went for Cubs prospect injuries. I keep forgetting that like half of the preseason top 40 dealt with serious injuries and missed time. If it weren’t for the massive infusion of new prospects throughout the year, the system could be in dire straights.)

⇒ Velazquez and his AFL teammate Luis Vazquez are off to play in the Puerto Rican Winter League before the year is up:

⇒ Not to be lost in Velazquez’s dominance of the AFL, Caleb Kilian clearly raised his prospect stock after showing improvements on improvements, and then throwing one of the most dominant minor league starts we’ve seen in a long time in the AFL Championship Game. The big righty, who was half of the Kris Bryant trade return (with outfielder Alexander Canario), touched 98(!) mph in the outing, and cut through the prospect-loaded other team for six perfect innings. Here’s how he described it to Baseball America: “It was one of those days where kind of all of your stuff feels like it’s on. I felt like all my pitches were working. I was throwing a lot of fastballs early on and I started mixing the other stuff and it started to come. You just go one inning at a time, one pitch at a time and then you look up and it was really cool.”

⇒ Kilian, like Herz and Velazquez, now feels like a guy you have to give back-end top ten consideration in the Cubs’ farm system (there are like 15 guys like that … it’s just a weird, uniquely deep time in the Cubs’ farm system). Here’s how Cubs Farm Director Matt Dorey, again via Cubs.com, spoke of Kilian’s time in the AFL, and why it could have been another big step forward in his development: “He was definitely exploring, and willing to try to be comfortable being uncomfortable, trying these new pitches and new grips in the Fall League on a pretty big stage. I was really proud that he stuck to it and he didn’t revert back to what he’s always been comfortable doing. I think we all saw that pay off in that last outing.”

⇒ I’m already so itchy to see Kilian pitching at Triple-A Iowa next year, because he came to the Cubs as this supreme command/control guy, with a variety of usable pitches, but not necessarily considered an elite “stuff” guy. But the guy we got to watch in the AFL Championship Game? That was an elite velo AND stuff guy. A one-game fluke? Maybe. Repeatable into next year after the offseason? Maybe not. Repeatable after teams are able to scout his new pitches and pitch shapes? Maybe not. But your baseline for a stud pitching prospect is a dude who looks like Kilian did. I know I’d be feeling pretty squeamish about that trade if I were a Giants fan right now. Just sayin’.

⇒ If you missed the bad news on Miguel Amaya, the top Cubs catching prospect has to have Tommy John surgery.

⇒ The Rule 5 Draft previews are rolling out (though you’ll note that, if there’s a lockout, the draft will not take place in early December as previously scheduled – it’d be sometime after the lockout ends). Of particular note for Cubs prospect purposes, the BA preview lists no eligible Cubs prospects as being “interesting names to know,” which sounds right – the Cubs were able to protect their best eligible prospects (and the unprotected quality prospects who are eligible all seem to be guys who are just too young/too far from MLB to realistically be drafted). It’s nice not to have to worry too much about losing a lot of guys.

⇒ MLB Pipeline named one player who could get picked for every organization, and while I think they named the right guy for the Cubs, I still highly doubt he gets drafted: “Weber is an organization favorite of the Cubs but lacks loud tools, projecting as a decent hitter with modest power, fringy speed and steady defense all over the infield. The 2018 fifth-rounder from Virginia batted .214/.302/.321 in 41 Double-A games while battling turf toe but looked much better while helping the Mesa Solar Sox win the Arizona Fall League championship.” Weber is a very nice utility prospect who could absolutely have a future on a big league bench, but given his struggles at Double-A (and time missed for injury), I really don’t think there’s a club out there that will believe he’s ready for a big league bench job right now. Far more likely is that he is passed over in the draft, and the Cubs play him at Double-A/Triple-A next year. Then maybe he shows he’s healthy and has taken big steps forward, and the Cubs have to put him on the 40-man roster next offseason.


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.