I doubt anyone has the stomach right now to be overjoyed by any kind of small Cubs story tonight, but this did make me slightly less unhappy, so I thought maybe it could do the same for you.
In tandem with outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez’s considerable breakout this year at Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League, where he won MVP honors, we’ve been wondering just how much of it was signal and how much was noise. Like, how much of the incredible results can we look at and say, yes, that is the product of repeatable things that he’s doing that will carry over to Triple-A next year, and then on into the big leagues as a regular?
And furthermore, was there something in Velazquez’s breakout that signals a broader organizational improvement? Could the Cubs break out more prospects like him, who were talented but consistently lived outside the “top 30” type group in our minds?
We can’t *really* answer those questions until a guy actually plays it out into the future and others either join him or don’t, but I appreciate getting some additional information on this front from Sahadev Sharma at The Athletic in his latest today, a write-up on Velazquez’s huge year:
How data-driven player development helped Nelson Velazquez make a career-changing adjustment that put him on the prospect map. https://t.co/PLcRlkLskz
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) November 29, 2021
It’s all great stuff if you’re looking for a little Cubs-related joy this evening, but, specifically, this section jumped out at me (emphasis added):
It didn’t take long for Velazquez to realize [in Spring Training that] he wasn’t in as good of a place with his swing as he thought. He struggled throughout the spring and about a week before camp broke, he knew it was time to make a change. That’s when [Cubs director of hitting Justin] Stone, VP of player development Matt Dorey and the research and development team collaborated to give Velazquez the information he needed. The group put together a thorough presentation on how they believed they could help him, and Velazquez embraced the ideas and ran with them.
Velazquez’s swing changes involve elements that the Cubs believe they have a competitive advantage with and hope to apply to more players in the future, so the exact details aren’t for public consumption, at least not yet. But Stone believes Velazquez’s changes are a great example of having success with data-driven training.
As always, you can be cynical and just not buy that kind of behind the scenes thing. But at least we do have the data points on Velazquez actually breaking out. Whether that was primarily because of these proprietary, secret sauce changes, or because of something else, well, that remains to be seen. And whether these proprietary, secret sauce changes can be ported over successfully to other hitters going forward, well, again, remains to be seen. But I do like the idea that *maybe* the Cubs have finally found something unique that they can use to improve position player development in the way that they have, at a minimum, had success with relievers over the past few years.
Basically, it’s what we’ve wanted for a long time, and particularly since the player development department was overhauled a couple years ago (reportedly, in large part at Jed Hoyer’s direction). We’ve wanted the Cubs to be one of those organizations that always seems to get more out of its players. That always seemed to have another wave of guys ready to come up and contribute, even though fans of other teams have never heard of these guys. That seem to be able to keep developing players to max out even long after they’ve reached the big leagues, or otherwise seemingly reached a limit at Triple-A.
Maybe we started to see it a little bit with the reclamation work on guys like Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, and Michael Hermosillo? Maybe we started to see the Cubs continuing this emphasis by bringing in Greg Brown as the new big league hitting coach, poaching him from his minor league hitting coordinator job with the Rays?
I know that none of this is a salve for the Cubs making impact changes to the big league roster this offseason, and I don’t mean to present it as one. Instead, I offer it up only as (1) something that matters in the long run, and that the Cubs really need to finally start getting right, and (2) a little extra reason to hope that Velazquez could continue getting better into next year, and become a real potential outfield starter for the Cubs thereafter.
Read the piece from Sharma if you want to really get into the nitty-gritty on this stuff. It’s fascinating work.