Luis Vazquez – Picture by Lauren Watson
Last September, shortstop Luis Vazquez was playing for the South Bend Cubs up in Beloit. He had just come back about a month earlier after missing most of the year with an injured hand/wrist that happened in the second week of the season. At the time, he was hitting .282 for South Bend and looked to be fully recovered. He was pulled in the middle of the game on September 8. He did not like that at all. So much so, that Vazquez decided to tell manager Mike Ryan his thoughts on the matter. Ryan, in a similar tone, told him that it would’ve been a shame if he left if he left him in and Vazquez had gotten injured because then he would not have been promoted to Tennessee. After that, the tension was gone and Vazquez was on his way to AA for the last week and a half of the season.
It’s an interesting story, but it’s true and it also reflects the kind of intensity that Luis Vazquez has at just 22 years of age. It seems like he’s been around forever. He was taken by the Cubs in the 14th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of high school in Puerto Rico at the age of 17.
Almost immediately, everyone raved about his defense. He makes every play look routine and he gets the ball out of his glove on its way to first faster than anyone in the system. He has a natural ability to track the ball off the bat almost immediately. He’s also aware of what type of throw he has to make from the get-go.
For Vazquez, his bat has never been at the same level as his defense his entire career. We’ve seen glimpses of what he can do with a bat in his hand. When he was healthy in South Bend last year we started to see the bat begin to come together and we are seeing it happening now in Tennessee in a league where he is still 2.3 years younger than the average player. Then again, that’s been the story of his career.
Vazquez broke in with the Cubs in 2017 in the Arizona Rookie League and he was 2.8 years younger than the average player in that league. He. He did not even hit .200 that first summer and in 2018, he showed flashes of defensive brilliance playing almost every day at Eugene at the age of 18. In 2019, I thought he would move up to South Bend but the Cubs decided otherwise.
Vazquez spent the first half of 2019 playing at South Bend, Tennessee, and Iowa as an organizational filler. It was thought that he would repeat Eugene again. His experience playing at Iowa and Tennessee impressed the managers there especially when he cranked a home run and that gave him some much needed confidence. At each stop, you could see glimpses of power at the plate, you could seek glimpses of the ability to track the ball, and his skill at recognizing pitches. He just wasn’t getting consistent at-bats that he needed.
He needed a home, a place to play everyday.
He got it at Eugene. Vasquez spent the rest of that summer there where he hit .239, a little over 40 points higher than he did the year before. Those 62 games were very important in this development as it gave him just one place to play.
His tenure last year at South Bend was documented above but when I saw him last fall, I could not believe the intensity that he emanates on the baseball field. You can just sense his presence. What I enjoyed most about him was his desire to make the play in the moment that will help the team win. It could be on defense, it could be on the basepaths, or it could be at the plate.
Vazquez did get a head start for 2022 as the Cubs had him play in the Arizona Fall League after the 2021 season. There, he once again he flashed his skills on defense but the bat was still lagging behind. Considering the advanced level of the Arizona Fall League, that was not really a surprise. But it did give Vazquez a bigger glimpse into the elite nature of Double-A.
When he was assigned Tennessee to start this year. I hoped he would stay there all year and the Cubs would help him figure it out at the plate after missing 3/4 of 2021.
What Vasquez has done this year has been to flash from time to time but he’s also improved from May to June to July. Those improvements have been tremendous. He was almost unstoppable the first two weeks of July. At the time I wrote this post on Sunday night, his slash line for the month was .305/.354/.424/.778.
And based upon what’s happening at the plate this month, it’s a first step towards him realizing that potential for himself. I’ve always said the bat lagged behind the glove. I’m looking forward to August just to see if he can keep it up and have some consistent progress this year and truly see if his bat has caught up. I really don’t want his production in July to be a flash in the pan where he makes the North Side Bound All-Star team one time and is done. I want to see him continue to produce at or near his current pace. Is it doable? Yes. Could he fall back and come in at .250 next month? He could do that as well. Usually, you see a trend, you follow it to its end.
Who knows, maybe the best thing that happened to him was seeing Chris Morel and Nelson Velazquez going to Chicago and it lit a fire under him that he could do that too. We shall see.