I about had a heart attack when I saw this tweet about 5:30 on Tuesday.
Nelson Velazquez @NVelazquez26 in the lineup for South Bend and making his MWL debut. Cubs 5th round pick last year out of Puerto Rico. #HeGood
— Northsiders Report (@NSidersReport) May 8, 2018
Needless to say, I ate my gyro and salad in a hurry so that I could sit and watch the game. Nelson Velazquez is currently ranked as the No. 9 Cubs prospect on MLB PIpeline on MLB.com and I this would be my first time seeing him play live. I was expecting him to debut in Eugene next month after suffering an injury at the end of spring training. The 19-year-old did not disappoint, flashing impressive skills in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths in his debut.
The knock on Velazquez heading into this year was he struck out a lot. His K% during the regular season in Mesa was at 30 percent, a number that jumped 20 points in the playoffs. Of course, he also hit two homers and drove in nine runs, all while hitting .304 with a .385 OBP in five games to lead the Cubs to a championship.
It’s impossible to say anything definitive about one game, but Velazquez looked to be very much in charge of his swing in this one.
In his first at-bat, he looked good laying off some pitches before he doubled on a curve down and in. He seemed to just flick his wrists before speeding down the line and on to second as the ball took a funny hop off the side wall. He wound up stranded at third despite leading off.
In the top of the 3rd, he caught a fly in right and showed off a canon for an arm on a throw to third. The throw was off a bit and failed to get the runner, but the display was impressive nonetheless.
In his second at-bat, he worked the count after being down 0-2. He laid off a couple curves, recognizing the spin quickly and tracking the ball all the way through. He ultimately hit a high popup deep to right center, but the approach was excellent.
In the bottom of the 6th, 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-handed hitting outfielder came up for the third time and quickly fell behind 0-2 swinging at two fastballs in the zone. He laid off the curve for ball one, then he got called out on strikes as the pitcher painted the outside corner with a fastball. While he did not get a hit, his approach was good.
When Velazquez came up in the bottom of the 8th, he had men on first and second with one out. He swung mightily at the first pitch and shattered his bat on the second before watching a slider go by and then getting caught looking at a fastball low and away again. South Bend announcer Darin Pritchet quipped that Velazquez might have been looking for a breaking ball. Regardless, the young prospect needs to learn to either go the other way with that type of pitch or learn to foul it off.
Overall, Velazquez is very raw, though it is very evident that he has all the tools – arm, glove, speed, bat, and power. There’s nothing outstanding about his box score, but going 1-for-4 with a double and two strikeouts is alright for a debut at low class-A at the age of 19. SB Cubs manager Jimmy Gonzalez has excelled in improving pitch recognition and in-game decisions with many young Cubs prospects the past couple of years, and it’ll be up to him and his staff to polish those skills with Velazquez this season.
Velazquez should be one of the most interesting follows in the organization as he learns to use his tools and adjusts again and again as he encounters pitchers and pitches he’s never seen before.