Scout's Eye View of Diego Velasquez
Get to know the Giants top international signing of 2021
Today we’re continuing our series of guest posts from Lukas McKnight and Tom Shafer of Peloteros International and I couldn’t be more excited about this post — I genuinely believe that you won’t find this depth of detailed information about the Giants top international signing in 2021 anywhere else on the internet. So dig in and enjoy … and don’t sleep on the link at the bottom to a Q&A that Tom and Lukas previously did with Giants International Cross-Checker Mike Silvestri. It’s a great window into the complexities of the international market and the scouting thought processes that lead to success in that market.
Lukas McKnight and Tom Shafer run the site PeloteroIntl.com (“pelotero” is the Spanish word for “ballplayer”). Together, Lukas and Tom have over 40 years of experience in the MLB industry — most of that coming from the scouting perspective. Tom Shafer spent over 20 years scouting for the Cubs, Reds, Astros and Mariners, focussing on the international market. Lukas McKnight spent his entire 20+ year career with the Cubs, starting as a minor league player before moving into scouting and front office work. He’s currently the Director of Baseball for Visual Edge, an industry leader in visual evaluation and training for high-level athletes.
Much of the challenge in scouting is getting the physical projection correct. Some tall, gangly middle infielders who signed as shortstops eventually grow into power-hitting corner players, like Carlos Lee and Jim Thome. Others maintain their thinner physique while continuing to play shortstop late into their careers, such as Carlos Correa or Cal Ripken. While there’s a path to the big leagues for players of all shapes and sizes, offensive expectations increase as a player drifts away (for example) from shortstop to second base. Offensive expectations increase again at infield and outfield corner positions. If a player can stick at shortstop through his peak seasons, a line of roughly .250/.320/.425 is often more than enough to hold down an everyday job. Take that same production at first base or left field and most teams are looking to upgrade.
Scouts use many methods in projecting players physically: they look at the size of a player’s parents and siblings, or they hunt for information on what kind of weight training the player has been exposed to (if any). Some veteran scouts look at bone structure as a precursor to how much broader a player will grow. With one successful scout, he uses wrist circumference to project how a player might eventually fill out. While genetics, training, and the eyeball-test are important and (at some level) accurate, they are all inexact. Further, each player represents a sample size of one, which makes the likelihood of a spot-on prediction almost nil.
That brings us to Diego Velasquez, a switch-hitting shortstop the Giants recently signed out of Venezuela. The 17-year-old Velasquez was rated the 22nd ranked international prospect of the 2020 international class by MLB.com and reportedly received a signing bonus of $900,000, which represents the highest bonus amongst the Giants’ 2020 signees.
Velasquez’s body-type elicits differing opinions amongst scouts. At 5’11” and 165 lbs, Velasquez is sure to fill out moving forward, and he’s likely to grow another inch or two. Conservatively, projecting him at 6’0”-6’1” and 185-190 pounds by his mid-20s is likely. How Velasquez’s fully-matured body will move athletically with the added muscle mass is where the disagreements arise. Currently, Velasquez isn’t particularly quick or explosive in his lower ½, and while he does move well laterally, any diminished range in the future will hamper his ability to play shortstop. Typically, players slow as they age. Statcast has added tremendously to what we know about the relationship between increasing age and decreasing speed, so any current range concerns are only likely to be exacerbated.
While some may have concerns about range, his hands are not an issue. He already features smooth actions, lightning-quick transfers from his glove to his throwing hand, and steady hands. Like many top infielders, Velasquez seems to never get a bad hop, which is a testament to his advanced ability to read the ball and play his way to avoiding those tricky in-between hops (especially on some rocky infields) that marginal defenders often create. He also shows a plus, accurate arm and an impressive ability to release the ball from any angle. These are all positive attributes for a player that will remain a dirt-defender- potentially a solid/steady sort at shortstop, or a plus defender at 2b or 3b.
Velasquez shows promise with the bat, though as with many players at this stage, there’s progress required before labeling him a sure thing. His right-handed swing stands out more now: there’s more strength in his hands from this side and he swings with more authority. Further, he does a better job engaging his lower ½ and creating leverage from the right side. There’s some length/barrel-dip to his bat path, though that typically cleans up as players add strength. He keeps his barrel through the hitting zone a long time, too, and it should allow him to use the whole field to hit. Likewise, his lefthanded swing shows promise on video. Though he’s not got the same violence to his swing or lower ½ engagement that he has righthanded, he does have a simpler, more direct path to the ball and shows a nice feel for contact and his barrel. My hunch is he’s newer to hitting left-handed and he should see some improvements, and as most hitters see roughly 75% of their at-bats against righthanders, the reps and improvements are apt to come quickly.
Velasquez’s 60 times hover right around 7.0, which is right near average. He looks close to an average runner underway and is described as a heady baserunner, so while he’ll likely not be a stolen base threat, he should add something to his WAR totals with proper decision making and grabbing an extra base on high relay throws, etc. Regarding his “Baseball IQ,” Velasquez trained in Venezuela under the tutelage of former Major League shortstop Ronny Cedeno, so his training has been around wisened veteran players. He also spent the bulk of his childhood in a dugout with his father, Jesus, who served as a trainer for Magallanes, one of the most popular teams in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League.
“We saw Velasquez as a polished baseball player with great makeup and a sound hitting approach from both sides of the plate. We will start him out as a shortstop as he has good hands and arm strength which comes easy. He may eventually outgrow the SS position, but I believe he will hit enough to play 3B as well.”
- Joe Salermo
Overall, Velasquez is an exciting prospect and I think there’s a good enough hitter with enough power down the road to his body and swing to project an everyday player. However, since I’m more of the mindset that the life to his lower ½ is likely to push him to 2b or 3b on his climb to the major leagues, I’d project more of an average regular than an impact player. Still, a player that switch hits (to the tune of .260/.330/.430) and plays a plus 2b is valuable. And while talking about player floors certainly aren’t as sexy as sky-high upsides, his skillset does offer something of one given how his glove (and switch-hitting capabilities) make for a perfect reserve infielder- also a valuable commodity. Since this is a Giants blog, they’d be familiar with a player he reminds me of- Ramon Martinez (the infielder, of course), albeit a switch-hitting version.
So while there isn’t the giant (sorry) upside here as with a player like Luciano, there’s plenty to be encouraged about in this shrewd signing by Joe Salermo and the Giants’ international scouting staff.
For more about the Giants’ international scouting efforts, read the Q&A we did earlier this year with the Giants new International Cross-Checker, Mike Silvestri.