The John Arguello Awards: Minor League Player of the Year
today at 6:00 am
Good morning! Today is the last in a series of three articles recognizing outstanding performances in the Cubs’ minor league system. On Monday, Cubs Den named their Short Season Pitcher and Player of the Year. Thursday saw Cubs Den name their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Now, we turn our attention to the Player of the Year.
Minor League Player of the Year: Nelson Velazquez, OF
Selected in the fifth round of the 2017 amateur draft, Nelson Velazquez has been a slow developing prospect that had been often overshadowed. But with the season Velazquez had in 2021, the Cubs’ patience could end up paying big dividends.
A high school player from Carolina, Puerto Rico, Velazquez started his professional career by clubbing 8 home runs in 32 games, while slashing .236/.333/.536/.870 with 17 RBI and 5 stolen bases in the Arizona Rookie League. But developments the next season cause Velazquez to almost become a forgotten player.
In 2018, the Cubs made a mistake in the development of Velazquez by jumping him straight to Low-A South Bend as a 19-year old. Velazquez struggled at the higher level of competition, batting only .188 in 31 games before returning to Arizona to await the start of the season for Short Season-A Eugene. While that was happening, the Cubs ended up selecting 11 outfielders in the 2018 draft. Those selections included high-profile high school players Brennen Davis and Cole Roederer, as well as Jimmy Herron, DJ Artis, and Ezequiel Pagan.
At a more suitable level with the Eugene Emeralds, Velazquez slugged 11 home runs and drove in 33 in 72 games while batting .250/.322/.458/.780. Once again, things started to look good for Velazquez going forward.
Breaking training camp with South Bend again, Velazquez struggled with an injury plagued season in 2019. In 78 games between the SB Cubs and Arizona, Velazquez hit a remarkable .288/.341/.441/.782. But the power and speed in his game was missing. Velazquez hit only 6 home runs, and stole only 5 bases after swiping 20 in his career.
A worldwide health crisis wiped out the 2020 season, as Velazquez was not invited to the Cubs alternative site to train. Velazquez also lost further ground in the prospect pecking order to young Venezuelan outfielder Yohendrick Pinango and draft selection Jordan Nwogu.
So it was no surprise that when the 2021 season rolled around, Velazquez became somewhat of a forgotten man. That became especially true when he opened for the third straight season with South Bend, albeit now as a High-A affiliate.
But Velazquez used the time off in 2020 well. “I did some new things in my workouts in order to improve my (offensive) approach and power”, Velazquez said in a July interview. “Hopefully, that can get me up to (Double-A) Tennessee”. That power did return to his game, as Velazquez belted 12 home runs on 69 games with the SB Cubs. Then, Velazquez got the call up to the Smokies in the beginning of August.
The promotion didn’t seem to phase the 22-year old, as he kept on producing. Hitting .290 with 8 home runs in Tennessee, Velazquez ended up with a system leading 20 home runs as he completed the year batting .270/.333/.496/.829 with 23 doubles, 2 triples, 73 RBI, and 17 stolen bases.
Defensively, Velazquez led all system outfielders with 12 assists. “I was signed as a centerfielder, so I like playing there”, said Velazquez, “but I also like right field”. Velazquez makes good reads in the outfield, and has the speed and range to play center. Velazquez also has a very strong arm the will play well in either center or right field.