By Todd Johnson
When Eloy Jimenez was traded in the middle of last summer, my heart was somewhat broken as I became quite attached to watching him play and was hopeful that he would be ready for the 2018 season. I didn’t think the Cubs had anybody with that type of power potential in the system. Little did I know, at that time, the Cubs drafted a power monster a month earlier in the fifth round.
As spring training looms on the horizon for the minor-league camp, I am looking forward to seeing what Nelson Velasquez can do. In just six weeks at Mesa in 2017, he hit 10 home runs between the regular season and the playoffs. He hit almost .300 for the month of August and drove in 14 runs that month. He drew rave reviews for his hit tool and his athleticism in the field, some suggesting he could stick in centerfield. Jason McLeod even added that Velazquez, while a physical specimen at 6’0” 190 lbs., could add a couple more inches and 15-20 pounds.
Here’s what Fangraphs had to say about Velasquez 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.
Turned 19 in December
5th Round Pick 2017
PJ Education HS, Puerto Rico
Leveling Up in 2018
For the 2018 season, Velasquez has only one thing to do and that is to reduce his 30% strikeout rate. That’s an astronomical figure for such a young player.
One thing I like to do with a prospect is to breakdown their season into smaller sections of performance. In July, Velasquez struck out 11 times in 31 at bats (35%) and did not get a walk once. In August, things improved slightly as he whiffed 25 times in 75 at-bats (33%) but drew 14 walks for a .408 OBP. However, in the playoffs, he struck out 6 times in 14 at-bats (43%) with 2 walks (.385 OBP) but cranked out 2 HRs and drove in 9 over 5 games. Wow!
And that’s the thing, he may strike out, but he also hits a lot of balls very, very hard including over the fence.
Currently there is no one like him with his potential for power in the system. He’s gonna be one of the more interesting watches this spring in camp. His career could go several different ways in 2018.
1. The Cubs could take the conservative route with him and just let him do extended spring training and then ship them off to Eugene for the summer and keep him there.
2. Depending on how he does in spring training, he could begin the year in extended spring training and move to South Bend for the second half. That would be a bit advanced and an aggressive move to speed up his development.
3. The most likely career route for Velazquez in 2018 would be for him to do extended spring training, get shipped up to Eugene, and then have his career reevaluated in early August. If he still is striking out at a high rate, then keep them in Eugene. 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.
The third scenario is the most likely and probably the one that could achieve what the Cubs think Velasquez needs to work on. Ideally, you want him to get as much game experience as you can. Then again, he’s only 19 and he’s not going to Chicago this year. The Cubs can let him get 300 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.