For the past few years at Cubs Insider, I’ve published semi-regular stock watch pieces as a way to tell you about prospects you might want to invest your time and attention to as they rise through the system. This edition is a little different because you should have already heard about the four players in question, but we’re going to take a look at how their respective performances in the Arizona Fall League will impact their rankings in the eyes of evaluators.
Nelson Velazquez, Caleb Kilian, and Andy Webber were all outstanding for the Mesa Solar Sox, while Ryan Jenson may have seen his reputation tarnished a bit. Let’s start with the positive and take a look at that exciting trio first.
If Velázquez was even on any lists prior to this summer, it was usually at the back end. After being drafted in 2017 at the age of 17, he made a steady climb through the system from rookie ball to Eugene to South Bend in his first three seasons. While his numbers didn’t really jump off the page, it’s interesting to note that he won a title every year.
He made it to High-A this year and really began to pop in June, earning a promotion to Double-A Tennessee in July. Things really popped in August, when he hit six of his 20 home runs on the season. That power surge continued in the AFL with nine more dingers and a dominant overall line that earned him league MVP honors.
Cubs outfield prospect Nelson Velazquez is your 2021 Arizona Fall League MVP!
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 20, 2021
Baseball America is set to release its top 30 Cubs list on November 29, at which point Velázquez should be in the top 10. I had him at No. 10 on my own list and he’s clearly a guy who’s put himself in the running to get to Chicago next summer. He’s beginning to fulfill the potential many saw back in 2017 and I’m more than a little excited to see where he lands on those national lists.
For as much of an impact as Velázquez had in Mesa, no one did more for his standing than Killian, who caught fire after a pair of very rough performances and ended up starting both the Fall Stars Game and the AFL championship. The Double-A South is not known for its HD cameras, so seeing Kilian in complete clarity really changed my perception of him.
He not only looked like a freaking big dude, he was sitting 95-98 with his sinker in the 1st inning. He got two quick grounders on the middle infield and then struck out the third batter on a 97 mph sinker. It was very impressive. Kilian then followed with five more perfect innings, striking out eight on just 68 pitches.
The AFL features a lot of very good hitters, so for Kilian to come in and just shut them down speaks more to his talent than a few weeks in Tennessee Last night’s 6 inning perfecto was amazing as shut down the team with the best record with 8 Ks as he flashed impeccable command over 68 pitches.
I would not be surprised to see him in the top 10 with Velázquez. Just based upon what he’s been working on this fall, like the spike curve he flashed Saturday night, he could take off next spring. I haven’t been this excited about a pitching prospect heading to Iowa for a while.
67 pitches, 8 Ks, 6 perfect innings
Prospect value⏫ pic.twitter.com/QlALENdHrc
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) November 21, 2021
Weber has not been on most top prospect lists and he’ll be in the back end of the 30 if he does make one. He’s been playing more second base lately and his ability to play both middle infield spots bodes well for him getting to the majors in a bench role. Right now, he needs to add some more muscle and turn a lot of his doubles into home runs if he wants to be a starter at the MLB level. It’ll probably take a lot of ABs against Triple-A pitchers before that happens.
Jensen had his share of struggles and it was clear the Cubs were working on a new pitch with him, so you shouldn’t be too worried about him getting shelled. He pitched well all season for South Bend and succeeded in his few starts at Tennessee. Then he was sent to Arizona to work on the new slider he threw about 50% of the time in Arizona. It’s clear he hasn’t got a feel for it yet, so that’s something to track once spring training starts.
Jensen was basically going two-seamer and curveball with a vicious changeup by the end of the year after starting out the season with a four-seam, two-seam, and slider. He redid everything on the fly in June and was the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher of the Month in July when everything began to click. If he gets the new slider figured out, he should be right back on track.
Luis Vasquez doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the group because he went to Arizona to make up for missing three months of the season with a hand/wrist injury. He looked great in the field and struggled at the plate initially, then he got injured again and looked really good at the plate once he came back. Vasquez will probably be at Double-A Tennessee to start 2022, so here’s to hoping this gives him a little confidence. He’s been in the system for quite a while after being drafted at 17, but he’s still just 22 years old and has time to develop.
We’ll see for sure how the AFL affected these prospects’ evaluations when that BA list drops later in the month.