Cubs' Velazquez wins AFL MVP Award
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nelson Velazquez’s Arizona Fall League got off to a booming start and finished with an MVP.
Velazquez was named the Arizona Fall League’s Joe Black Most Valuable Player and recognized prior to Saturday’s Championship Game between his Mesa Solar Sox and the Surprise Saguaros.
"It means everything," Velazquez said. "I feel really happy, very proud of myself. I thank my coaches, my teammates and my trainer for everything I’ve been doing in the Fall League. They helped me all the time. It was a good time with them."
The Cubs’ No. 29 prospect hit a pair of doubles as part of a three-hit performance on Opening Day. In his final game, he was a perfect 3-for-3 with three RBIs. In between, Velazquez was one of the league’s best and most consistent performers.
He led the league in both homers (nine) and OPS (1.191), and finished second in batting (.385), third in on-base percentage (.480) and fourth in RBIs (24). He also tied for the league lead with 26 games played.
What’s more, he finished the season on a five-game hitting streak, posted 13 multihit performances and had at least one hit in 21 of his 26 games.
“Every day he’s been impressive,” Mesa manager Lance Rymel said. “What he brings on the offensive side and what he brings on the defensive side, his work before the game, his routine has been impressive, and that’s why he's having so much success out here. He does it every day.”
That routine and approach is something Velazquez has worked hard to develop. A fifth-round pick from the 2017 Draft, the 22-year-old got off to a slow start in his professional career -- hitting .239 in the Rookie-level Arizona League and then batting .231 in his first full season.
Velazquez’s tools started to play better in 2019 as he hit .288 over 78 games, but swing-and-miss issues were a cause for concern, and he’d yet to play above Low-A. However, Velazquez spent the COVID shutdown working out in Puerto Rico and then posted the best numbers of his career in 2021.
“Everything changed,” Velazquez said. “My swing changed, my mind changed. In 2020, when we were there for the quarantine, I put my work in the field every day so I can do what I’m doing right now.”
Velazquez slashed .270/.333/.496 and set career highs for RBIs (73) and homers (20) over 103 games with High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee this season.
That success carried over into the Fall League, where he continued to showcase his ability to drive the ball. In four games played at Salt River, for example, Velazquez hit six balls over 100 mph, topping out with a 111.1 mph double off the left-center-field wall on Thursday.
“Strike zone awareness,” Rymel said of Velazquez's biggest improvement over the past six weeks. “He’s got the power, which is off the charts. He stays in his zone, and when he gets a pitch he likes, he doesn’t take it. He connects.”
After leading Cubs Minor Leaguers with 45 extra-base hits and 191 total bases during the regular season, Velazquez’s strong showing in the fall helped the outfielder earn a spot on the Cubs' 40-man roster. Velazquez was added to the roster Friday and will head into 2022 looking to build off the success he had this year.
"I almost cried," Velazquez said. "I was so happy they called me and told me I was going to be on the 40-man roster. I was so excited, and I can’t wait for Spring Training."
Here is the complete list of Arizona Fall League Joe Black MVP Award winners:
2019 -- Royce Lewis (Twins), SS/OF, Salt River Rafters
2018 -- Keston Hiura (Brewers), 2B, Peoria Javelinas
2017 -- Ronald Acuna (Braves, OF, Peoria Javelinas
2016 – Gleyber Torres (Yankees), SS, Scottsdale Scorpions
2015 -- Adam Engel (White Sox), OF, Glendale Desert Dogs
2014 -- Greg Bird (Yankees), 1B, Scottsdale Scorpions
2013 -- Kris Bryant (Cubs), 3B, Mesa Solar Sox
2012 -- Chris McGuiness (Rangers), 1B, Surprise Saguaros
2011 -- Nolan Arenado (Rockies), 3B, Salt River Rafters
2010 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners), 2B, Peoria Javelinas
2009 -- Grant Desme (A's), OF, Phoenix Desert Dogs
2008 -- Tommy Hanson (Braves), RHP, Mesa Solar Sox
2007 -- Sam Fuld (Cubs), OF, Mesa Solar Sox
2006 -- Chip Cannon (Blue Jays), 1B, Phoenix Desert Dogs
2005 -- Eric Duncan (Yankees), 3B, Grand Canyon Rafters
2004 -- Chris Shelton (Tigers), DH, Grand Canyon Rafters
2003 -- Jason Dubois (Cubs), OF, Mesa Solar Sox
2002 -- Ken Harvey (Royals), 1B, Scottsdale Scorpions