You’ve probably heard of the monster season Nelson Velázquez put up to earn MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, but you may not know how he was able to do it. As our Greg Huss laid out recently, the two biggest differences came from adding more muscle and doing a better job of hitting the ball in the air. Neither of those changes took place overnight and Velázquez wasn’t an unknown prospect, though the lost season in 2020 created a gap in coverage that made his late-season surge between Tennessee and the AFL seem like a switch had flipped.
The reality of it is that Velázquez had made some tweaks to his swing, most notably by eliminating a higher leg kick in favor of a toe tap and slide step. That might conjure up notions of Albert Almora Jr. for some of you, but I think we can all rest assured that this is a very different situation all the way around. What’s important is that the relatively simple change is as much mental and physical and that should be easy to maintain.
“When I was hitting doing the leg kick, I tried to get the ball too out front and my barrel came down a little bit,” Velázquez told Marquee’s Lance Brozdowski. “So I’m just, right now, I put it in my mind like, ‘If you’re hitting good doing the toe-tap, just keep doing it.'”
I’m going to break down some of the specific changes in a bit, but I want to first look at a front view of Velázquez’s swing to show the open stance that isn’t evident from the side. This also gives us a look at the timing mechanism that sees him tap his left toe as he comes closed before getting into his stride. As you’ll see below, it’s a smoother move that sets up a much cleaner bat path with an improved power profile.
Nelson Velazquez is coming for the AFL MVP.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 19, 2021
Okay, now we’ll get to a side-by-side comparison put together by Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation. With obvious allowances for slightly different camera angles and other disparities — pitch type, image clarity, etc — some big differences stand out pretty clearly. Take some time to check them out for yourself and then follow along with the frame-by-frame action.
A lot has changed. Nelson’s obvious increased muscle mass allows for less load to create equal/more power. Contact point up. Flatter bat path. pic.twitter.com/GsZswpe6Lt
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) November 3, 2021
The change in his lower body is evident even if you’re not watching very closely, but you can also see how Velázquez isn’t counter-rotating as much with his upper body. That’s largely a function of ditching the leg kick, which had him shifting his weight back onto his right leg and may have caused him to overcompensate and open up his shoulders too early. It’s also a matter of physical maturity and not needing to wind up so much.
You can also see how he had pre-set his hands farther back and out away from his body a little more, which would have robbed some of his power and led to more of a chopping motion as he had indicated. There’s no way he could have properly loaded his scapula — if you’re unfamiliar with this, think about how you would contract your scap to throw a punch — so he’s compensating with the exaggerated rotation.
The new, cleaner move sees him keeping the hands lower and then “walking away” from them at foot strike rather than having them back from the start.
You can really see that in this second image, particularly in the way his left shoulder is almost all the way under his chin at the apex of his lift. Velázquez has his back elbow up too high, even with or above his hands, so he was creating a steeper downward angle for the bat getting into the zone. He was forcing also forcing the barrel to travel a much longer path to contact, setting up a lot of room for error.
The clarity isn’t great here, but you can see how how the barrel looks like it’s behind him in the older image. Since he wasn’t storing enough energy with a proper load, he ended up uncoiling his upper half and “wrapping” the bat to a greater degree. Though it’s very hard to make out anything in the blur of his hands, it looks like he’s breaking his wrists as a function of that wrap, which could then have caused him to roll over too often.
Based on the excessive number of grounders he was hitting early on, I’d say that was probably the case. I’d also speculate that he’s not gripping the bat as tightly with his top hand because he’s no longer having to pull it through the zone from that deeper launch position. That gives him more freedom and prevents rollover as well.
One more observation here is how much cleaner his hips are now, firing open instead of swaying forward with the momentum of his kick and stride.
Finally, we can see a much more pronounced “box” being created by his arms at contact. The left arm is out away from his body and the right is powering the bat through the ball in the image on the right, whereas the earlier clip shows the arms tighter to the body. Even accounting for the angle, it also appears that his hips have opened up more in the recent pic to translate more of that lower body power into the swing.
Increased strength is clearly a factor here and that can’t be discounted when it comes to Velázquez’s ability to generate pop without having to incorporate all that added movement. The end result is a much cleaner, more efficient swing with a bat path that creates more flush contact by eliminating some of that chop and roll that sent far too many balls into the ground previously.
All of this leads me to believe the production we saw at Double-A and in the AFL wasn’t just a fluke. It also indicates that Velázquez is willing and able to make additional adjustments in the future as needed, both with his mechanics and his mental approach. It helps when the results are so clear, but I’d be willing to bet he understands just how important the process has been for his development.
We won’t have to wait for spring to see the new swing in action again, as Velázquez is joining los Criollos de Caguas in Puerto Rico for the remainder of their season. Even though he’s probably only going to play in a few games, we’re sure to get some video of his exploits there.