Is this the start of a promotion flurry, or just another one-off? Even if it’s the latter, it’s still quite fun.
Chicago Cubs outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez started to really take off late last year at Double-A Tennessee, and then exploded in the Arizona Fall League, thanks in part to some secret sauce changes to his swing process that the Cubs aren’t divulging. He was then put on the 40-man roster, and returned to Double-A Tennessee to open the year, presumably both to keep space available for other guys at Triple-A at the start of the year, but also to make sure his breakout was for real before challenging him further.
I think he answered the part about the breakout being real (he’s hitting .278/.374/.696 through 21 games this year, including an LOL-worthy .362/.474/.979 (262 wRC+) over the last two weeks). So now comes the next challenge:
Heard #Cubs OF Nelson Velázquez is being promoted to Triple-A. One of Chicago’s top position prospects.
— Britt Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) May 6, 2022
Velazquez, 23, was the Cubs’ 5th rounder back in 2017, a hush-hush scouting job by the Cubs in Puerto Rico. It was immediately clear that the Cubs had landed a huge power prospect right out from everyone else in that draft, but with that power came a whole lot of work to do on the swing and miss. That part has taken years to get him to a place where he could succeed against more advanced pitching, but it remains the thing he has to work on at Iowa. The strikeout rate this year is a gaudy 36.3%, and even over his hot two week stretch, it’s still close to 30%. Not only will that not play at the higher levels, he also won’t get nearly as many mistakes to crush in Triple-A. He’ll have to make some adjustments to make a little more contact in the zone, even if it means sacrificing some power (especially in two-strike counts). He’ll also have to keep working on not chasing. The power, though, is super legit. As is the corner outfield defense.
Since Velazquez is already on the 40-man roster, he is theoretically on the radar for some big league action later this year (maybe post Trade Deadline) or if there is a rash of injuries, but that absolutely should not be the expectation. Like Brennen Davis, there are real things to work on for Velazquez, and frankly you HOPE he is challenged by them right away at Iowa so that he has an opportunity to work on them before he would come up to the big leagues. Because we know it only gets exponentially harder against big league pitching, especially if you’re not playing every day.
Overall, Velazquez is among the Cubs’ best ten or so positional prospects because of that extreme power upside. But it’s still a very open question whether he can make himself into an everyday big leaguer in the years ahead. The potential is there, but it’s not a lock.
Now we await word on whose spot he takes at Iowa, where there are some veteran-ish outfielders that might be heading out, and who takes HIS spot at Double-A in the outfield (there will be calls to promote Alexander Canario, who is doing at High-A what Velazquez was doing at Double-A).