Feature photo of Nelson Velazquez by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)
Entering the 2021 season, I didn’t have Nelson Velazquez ranked as one of my top 20 hitting prospects in the Chicago Cubs system. That really goes to show just how far Nelly has come in the last year-plus all the way to receiving a promotion to the Major Leagues.
Since debuting in High-A to begin the 2021 campaign, the outfielder has gone on an absolute tear. He was likely the second place finisher in the race to the Cubs MiLB Player of the Year last year, displaying light tower power on his way to a 156 wRC+ during his time in Double-A Tennessee.
But after the year concluded, there were still questions. Although the pop was clearly present, Nelly still had plenty of swing-and-miss in his game and really refused to draw walks at anything near league-average rates. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League where he earned the League’s MVP honors after posting a silly .385/.480/.712 slash line in 123 plate appearances and it appeared he could produce regardless of the underlying numbers thanks to his ridiculous batted ball data.
Now in 2022, Velazquez has continued his power output but now he’s learned how to draw his walks. After a silly re-assignment to Tennessee on Opening Day, he got the call up to Iowa thanks to his 9 home runs in just 94 plate appearances for the Smokies. His 12 total bombs pace the system, and his slash line of .253/.347/.567 puts his OPS+ at an impressive 127.
So what can we expect from Nelson Velazquez in Chicago? He is going to make his presence felt on the Statcast leaderboards, that’s for sure. The exit velos he posts will be not only among the best on the team, but some of the best in the league as well. He will strike out way more than league-average and go through some growing pains after pitchers learn how to attack him. Defensively, Velazquez has enough speed right now to play a competent center field, although I think he’s best used in right field where he can show off his arm.
More importantly, fans should enjoy yet another Major League debut from an exciting player that might not be a star in Chicago, but will definitely play a role on the “next great Cubs team.” Watching performances at the MLB level from Velazquez, Christopher Morel, Alfonso Rivas, Brandon Hughes, and Ethan Roberts is what this year’s version of the Cubs is all about.