Spring Training Prospect Profile: Nelson Velazquez Has Tons of Power, Approach Needs Work

I had become quite attached to watching Eloy Jimenez play and was very high on his Cubs future, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little heartbroken when he was traded in the middle of last summer. I didn’t think the Cubs had anybody else with that type of power potential in the system. Little did I know that they had drafted a monster a month earlier in the fifth round.

As minor league spring training looms, I am looking forward to seeing what Nelson Velasquez can do. He hit 10 home run in just six weeks at Mesa in 2017, including the playoffs, and hit almost .300 with 14 RBI for the month of August. Velasquez drew rave reviews for his hit tool and his athleticism, with some suggesting he could stick in center field. Jason McLeod even added that Velazquez, while a physical specimen now at 6 feet and 190 pounds, could add a couple more inches and another 15-20 pounds.

FanGraphs had to say about Velasquez and his potential back in November:

Velazquez is raw but has louder tools than are typically found for $400,000. He projects for plus raw power, and amateur scouts had a 55 on his speed. We saw fringe speed in the AZL but knew there was a hamstring issue present. He projects to an outfield corner. Velazquez is thick through the thighs and butt, and scouts have his frame comp’d to corner outfielders (Jorge Bonifacio, Yoenis Cespedes, and Scott Schebler), so most have him projected there despite the present 55 wheels.

Basic info
6-0,190 lbs
Turned 19 in December
Bats/throws: R/R
5th Round Pick 2017
PJ Education HS, Puerto Rico

Leveling Up in 2018

The big focus for Velasquez in 2018 has will be to reduce his 30 percent strikeout rate. That’s not an astronomical figure figure in today’s game, especially for such a young player, but you’d like to see it lower at the early levels of the minors.

One thing I like to do when evaluating prospects is to break their season down into smaller sections in order to gauge growth. Velasquez struck out 11 times in 31 July at-bats (35%) and did not walk once. Things improved slightly in August as he whiffed 25 times in 75 at-bats (33%) but drew 14 walks for a .408 OBP. Then he struck out six times in 14 playoff at-bats (43%) with only walks (.385 OBP), but cranked out two homers and drove in nine over 5 games.

And that’s the thing: Velasquez may strike out, but he also hits a lot of balls very, very hard over the fence. The Cubs have no other prospects that can match his raw power. He’s going to be one of the more interesting watches this spring in camp, after which the Cubs have a number of options as far as his next step.

The Cubs could take the conservative route and just let Velasquez do extended spring training, then ship them off to Eugene for the summer and keep him there. Another option would be to move him to South Bend following EST. That would be a bit advanced and an aggressive move to speed up his development.

In all likelihood, Velazquez will go from extended spring training to Eugene, then have his career reevaluated in early August. If he still is striking out at a high rate, he’ll probably stay there. Playoff races in Eugene and South Bend could also affect his placement in late August. If Eugene is in and South Bend is out, keep him in Eugene. If South Bend is in and Eugene is out, ship him to South Bend.

Ideally, you want this young man to get as much game experience as possible. He’s only 19 and he’s not going to Chicago in the next couple years, so the Cubs can let him get 300-400 at-bats in this year to improve that plate discipline and develop it as they see fit.

What could spoil all this is if Velasquez just comes out and start ripping the cover off the ball at every stop. PK Park in Eugene is not known as a home run haven, but Velasquez could turn it into one…quickly.

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