I was surprised to see Nelson Velazquez travel with the South Bend Cubs to play in Beloit last month because a case of tonsillitis had been holding him back to start the year. Minor leaguers typically stay back to recuperate fully, so this was a sign that he was more than ready to go. And boy was he ever ready.
Velazquez made his 2021 season debut on May 14 in the fourth game of that set and he has not stopped hitting since. Through 14 games, he is hitting .380 with three home runs and a team leading 15 RBI in May. His wRC+ was 162 for the month. That’ll do.
The Cubs drafted Velazquez out of high school in Puerto Rico in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, at which point he was an even 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. He’s still close to that same size, but he’s more muscular and is continuing to make good on the early huge potential to hit for both average and for power.
He went home run crazy right out of the gate when he played in the Arizona Rookie League in 2017 at 18 years old, cranking out eight in just 32 games. He then batted .250 with 11 home runs at Eugene in 2018, but seemed to struggle against more advanced college pitcher.
Say good-bye to that one! Nelson Velazquez send it to deep left-center to put the Ems on the board! pic.twitter.com/HE6j2WgCsK
— Eugene Emeralds (@EugeneEmeralds) July 1, 2018
His 2019 season at South Bend was a mixed bag, as he batted .286 with a 121 wRC+ but only managed to hit four home runs while struggling with injuries for half of the year. The power deficit was a concern even if it was more injury-related and he was still overmatched by more advanced pitching, but there were signs of improvement.
We’re seeing that again in three different areas this season. The first is that he’s punishing strikes. The second is he using the whole field, going to right with just as much authority as he’s driving it to the gap in left-center. Finally, he’s healthy and ready to go for the first time since 2018.
Nelson Velazquez yard pic.twitter.com/r4nKJG3Tdd
— TheDoctor🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) May 31, 2021
He still needs to work on the tendency to chase pitches with two strikes because I’ve seen him flail at several breaking balls down and away, out of the zone. That 33% strikeout rate probably isn’t going to get much better at higher levels if he’s not a little more disciplined. Once he starts figuring out how to control the zone better with two strikes, he’s just going to be deadly.
At 22 years of age, you have to feel pretty good about his future if he can stay healthy and improve his approach a little bit.