The Royals made a fairly under-the-radar move the day before the trade deadline this summer when they acquired Nelson Velázquez in exchange for Jose Cuas. Getting a young outfielder with upside in exchange for a 29-year-old middle reliever seemed to be a shrewd, if perhaps unimpactful, move at the time. Thus far, Velázquez has done nothing but hit the hell out of the ball since arriving in Kansas City. He homered on just the second pitch he saw with the team and went yard again the very next day. While he did not continue to homer in every game, he has still hit .244/.295/.610 in 28 games, good for a 136 wRC+. That’s piggybacking off a brief big league stint in Chicago earlier this season in which he hit to a 145 wRC+ in 32 plate appearances.
Trying to evaluate a player with this small of a sample is a bit of a fool’s errand, but we’re going to go ahead and do so anyway. The first thing that stands out is how hard he hits the ball. Velázquez has a 48.7% hard-hit rate, which would place him in the 86th percentile among qualified hitters. Hitting the ball hard is no guarantee of offensive success (see Melendez, MJ) but guys that hit the ball hard generally hit well.
What’s even more encouraging is his barrel rate. Hitting a ball hard is great, but it doesn’t matter so much if it comes off the bat at -5° (see Hosmer, Eric). Barrels are where it’s at — the type of batted ball that is highly likely to go for extra bases. Velázquez has been nothing short of elite in this regard as on both a per plate appearance or per batted ball event basis, he would be second only to Aaron Judge with rates of 20.5% and 13.3%, respectively. Barrel rate is pretty sticky and Velázquez posted solid marks in a larger sample in 2022 as well. These elite metrics are the reason why his xwOBA of .376 is almost identical to his actual mark of .378.
Velázquez leans into the power approach by hitting tons of pull-side flyballs. These types of batted balls allow a hitter to maximize what they get out of their raw power. Velázquez doesn’t have elite raw power with a max exit velo of 111.4, but he’s got more than enough to hit plenty over the fence if he simply yanks a lot of balls in the air. There are only two hitters with at least 50 plate appearances in 2023 with a higher pull rate than Velázquez’s 53.8% and higher fly-ball rate than his 35.9%. These two comps are where we get into the problem with Velázquez’s profile as they are two solid but very flawed hitters: Joey Gallo and Adam Duvall.
Gallo is one of the most unique players of this generation: a three-true-outcomes savant that is quite possibly the only player than can hit .200 with a 35% strikeout rate and still produce an above average batting line. He’s basically never hit for average — Gallo has a career .197 batting average and, even after the shift ban, is hitting .177 in 2023. However, he has a 109 career wRC+ and 103 mark this season because he draws a ton of walks and hits the ball harder than almost anybody when he does connect. Though Velázquez’s batted ball metrics compare favorably to Gallo’s, he falls short in terms of approach. He has a career 8.3% walk rate in the majors and generally hovered around there in the minors as well. That’s not a bad walk rate, but it’s not enough to make up for a low batting average.
Duvall, meanwhile, is perhaps the perfect comp for Velázquez. While not excelling in hard-hit rate, Duvall posts excellent barrel rates which has allowed him to hit double-digit homers every year since 2016. He also consistently posts K-rates around 30% with unimpressive walk rates to match.
Eric Longenhagen, writing in a 2022 Chicago Cubs prospect list about Velázquez:
He may have some lean years because of his approach, but there will be others when Velazquez hits 25 bombs while seeing fairly regular duty in right field.
In three seasons of his career, Duvall has hit 30+ home runs and been worth around 2.5 fWAR. In every other season, he hasn’t been a full-time player due either to injuries or ineffectiveness. That seems like a near-perfect comp for Velázquez. At his best, he could be a solid power bat in a contending team’s outfield. At his worst, he’s a platoon guy that can run into one every now and then. That’s not the most exciting outcome, but getting a guy that could produce ~5 fWAR through his team-controlled years in return for an unremarkable middle reliever has to be considered a win.
All stats are through Sunday’s games.
Nelson Velázquez is a....
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