The Situation: Roberto Hernandez has been sent to the bullpen, opening up a rotation spot for Vincent Velasquez, as long as he’ll have it. While there is plenty of pressure there, the spotlight should be on fellow call up Carlos Correa. Of course, living up to the bar that Lance McCullers, Jr. has set, is another thing altogether.
Background: A second-round pick as a prep product out of Gary, CA, in 2010, Velasquez has moved through the minors expediently when healthy—which hasn’t been often enough. A health risk following a strained ligament and stress fracture in his junior year of high school, he missed most of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, and spent another two months on the shelf with a groin injury last season. When he was able to toe the rubber, Velasquez flashed two plus pitches and an above-average third, routinely striking out batters by the bushel. He showed impressive control at the lower levels, but it waned as he moved up the chain. He recorded a 1.37 ERA while striking out 36.6 percent of batters faced, walking just under nine percent in 26 1/3 innings at Double-A prior to being called up.
Scouting Report: Velasquez attacks hitters with a three-pitch mix, fronted by a plus (or better) fastball and a changeup to match it. He complements the fastball/changeup combo with an average curve that has some room for growth.
While locating within the zone can still present problems, Velasquez’s pure stuff helps it matter less. He sits 94-96 MPH with his fastball, and can touch 98. The pitch has occasional arm-side run, and with the combination of plane generated from his 6-foot-3 frame and pure velocity, he can live in the zone even with loose command. He’s had difficulty commanding the pitch to both the glove and arm side, but is generally able to keep it down in the zone. He throws from a standard three-quarters arm slot and hides the ball well, though he flashes it behind him during his arm wrap at times.
The changeup plays well off the fastball because Velasquez sells it by replicating his arm speed. He has good velocity separation between the offspeed and the heater, but will occasionally drop his arm slot slightly in an effort to generate more run and fade on the pitch, making it look like a mid-80s two-seamer at times. When he maintains the arm slot, it still fools batters thanks to good depth and an ability to keep the ball in the lower third. It’s a present plus pitch with some slight room for growth as he continues to refine his command.
The curveball might play third chair in this orchestra, but it still hits its share of notes. He’ll use it often as a chase pitch with two strikes, but has shown the ability to drop it in for strikes as well. While it wouldn’t fare nearly as well on its own, when sequenced in behind the fastball and change, it represents an average third offering that can play up at times. He will throw some cement mixers and let the pitch flatten out when aiming, rather than just cutting loose, but it has made progress since he was drafted and still has some room for growth.
A good athlete, Velasquez should be able to maintain his mechanics and repeat his delivery, which should aid his command in due time. The biggest key will be avoiding frequent trips to the disabled list, as the big right-hander has the stuff and command to profile as a mid-rotation starter down the line.
Immediate Big-League Future: An extended look in the rotation appears to be in the cards, as Scott Feldman recovers from an injury and Roberto Hernandez is exiled to the bullpen. If he performs well enough, it’s possible he could remain in the rotation even after Feldman returns, should the Astros prefer him to Brett Oberholtzer. —Craig Goldstein
Fantasy Impact: After standing pat for a while with their rookies, the Astros have decided that instead of attempting to trade for their needs outside of the organization that it is better to strike while the iron is hot and promote deserving prospects to the majors. It is also possible that some of these promotions are being made in order to showcase some of these rookies on the big stage for a trade.
Velasquez hasn’t pitched above Double-A—and he has all of five starts at that level—but the raw stuff is likely to play in the majors, particularly the first time or so through the league. Velasquez is similar to recent MLB call ups Noah Syndergaard and Eduardo Rodriguez in that he isn’t a completely refined pitcher yet but has a solid fastball and a secondary pitch (a change) that plays even if the tertiary pitch (a curve) doesn’t quite do so yet. Velasquez isn’t in Syndergaard’s league in terms of pure heat, but he can dial it up when needed and he has enough separation with his change that he can survive on the combination even if the curve isn’t there yet.
This potential to survive is important for fantasy purposes if you are planning on placing a waiver claim or a bid on Velasquez. He is sliding into the Astros rotation for Roberto Hernandez, so this isn’t a situation where Velasquez is replacing a proven starter who is injured and will merely slide into the minors once the veteran’s rehab is completed. Despite the relative lack of high minors experience, there is an excellent chance that this is a permanent move for the Astros if Velasquez’s performance justifies the call up for Houston.
Velasquez is similar to recent call up Lance McCullers insofar as his real life value is likely to be greater than his fantasy value, particularly in the early going. The strikeouts are going to be an asset in all formats, but the ratio risk (particularly the WHIP risk) is going to push Velasquez’s value down somewhat. He is a streamer in deeper mixed leagues and a must start in AL-only. The bid in AL-only is somewhere in the $10-15 range if you are using a $100 budget. That may seem conservative, but while the idea is that Velasquez could stick all year long, it is not certain by any means that he will. A bid in this range is aggressive enough to get Velasquez in some leagues while also mitigating the risk that he is overmatched and has to return to the minors for more seasoning. —Mike Gianella
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