Cubs need to let Nelson Velazquez grind through his struggles
By Cary Heinz
Two people can see the exact same thing or, in this instance, read the exact same sentence and interpret it in two completely different ways. Knowing that, one may interpret this piece as either criticism, observation – or perhaps both.
I do not understand what is going on with rookie Cubs outfielder Nelson Velazquez. Before 2021, he was seemingly just another prospect in the system with potential, but bulked up on his own when away from the organization in 2020. Last year, he broke out and had a strong enough season to earn one of the coveted spots in the Arizona Fall League where he absolutely raked. He hit nine home runs in just 26 games and racked up an astonishing 1.191 OPS. Along with Caleb Killian, Velazquez became a name familiar to serious Cubs fan.
Injuries may have hastened his promotion. On May 30 he was called up as the extra man in a doubleheader batting a respectable 2-for-7 in his debut. He returned June 20, and hit fairly well into July. Coming out of the 4th of July weekend, he was hitting .297. But now, that’s fallen to a .195 mark, to go along with a .612 OPS.
Cubs: Despite struggles, Nelson Velazquez should get regular at-bats
Here is where I am confused. This rookie is obviously struggling. You don’t need to be Bill James to analyze that. He has played intermittingly since. He’s not going to take at bats from an All-Star like Ian Happ or someone like Seiya Suzuki. There were many games when I thought journeyman Rafael Ortega was taking away potential at bats from him, though.
In athletics, when you are losing, a manager of coach has to strike a balance between winning games and developing young talent. I get that. In my opinion, young players, even those struggling, should not be sitting on the bench for Chicago, especially given where the team has found itself standings-wise for much of 2022. Velazquez needs regular at-bats either with the big club or in Iowa – period.
What difference does it make if the 2022 Cubs win 65, 68 or 71 games? None at all. On Saturday night they were shut out 6-0, and Sunday, won 8-3. They’re playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, not the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our boys have a winning record since Aug. 1, but the offense is still anemic.
Every baseball player has a ceiling of ability, even though Aaron Judge’s may be somewhere in outer space. I think we know what the ceiling is for Patrick Wisdom – a lot of home runs and a low average. The Esteban Quiroz story is a nice one making MLB at the age of 30, but he’s not Roy Hobbs. David Bote and Michael Hermosillo both missed a lot of time this season, but the latter seems to be all-glove, no-bat – a second coming of Albert Almora Jr.
There are players who are set. Yan Gomes, Nico Hoerner, Happ and Suzuki (will we see him again this year?) will almost certainly be back next year. Others are trying out, but are all older. Velazquez has just 39 at-bats in September. By contrast, Zach McKinstry is leading off virtually every game and has 75 September swings with an OPS around .700. He does hit from the left side and doesn’t have the offensive expectations of a corner outfielder.
Franmil Reyes arrived on a tear, but he’s cooled off like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. He’s had 72 at-bats this month, hitting near the Mendoza line and hasn’t homered in September. Velazquez has seven more RBI with only 27 fewer at-bats compared to the veteran. His addition was a no-brainer for a Cubs team in need of power, but it’s becoming more evident why he was available.
I don’t think Nelson Velazquez is a future Hall of Famer. He’s young and has a lot of potential, but is losing opportunities to guys whose upside is evident, where his is unclear. In the remaining games, he deserves more at-bats.