Cubs, White Sox prospects make names for themselves in Arizona Fall League
Canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Arizona Fall League was back this year.
As always, top prospects from all 30 major-league teams headed to Phoenix for the five-week season that wrapped up on Nov. 20.
Spencer Torkelson (Tigers), Marco Luciano (Giants), CJ Abrams (Padres) and Nolan Gorman (Cardinals) topped a list of premier young talent, but Cubs prospect Nelson Velazquez and White Sox minor-leaguer Yolbert Sanchez made names for themselves in Arizona.
Velazquez, rated No. 24 by Baseball America on the Cubs' top prospects list, hit .385/.480/.712 with 9 home runs and 24 RBI in 26 games with the Mesa Solar Sox.
The 22-year-old outfielder was named the Arizona Fall League's MVP after the surprising showing. "It means everything," Velazquez told MLB.com. "I feel really happy, very proud of myself."
As an added bonus, Velazquez was added to the Cubs' 40-man roster the day before claiming MVP honors.
"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."
Assuming spring training starts on time -- baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Wednesday and a lockout is almost certain -- Velazquez will report to the Cubs' training camp with a much higher prospect profile.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2017 out of Carolina, Puerto Rico, Velazquez slashed .270/.333/.496 and had 20 home runs and 73 RBI in 103 games with high Class A South Bend and AA Tennessee last season.
Like Velazquez, Sanchez was a marginal prospect when the 2021 season opened.
Rated No. 15 in the White Sox's system by Baseball America, Sanchez had a strong season at two levels, hitting 308/.352/.419 for high Class A Winston-Salem and AA Birmingham while earning a spot in the Arizona Fall League.
"Right now, my confidence level is very high," Sanchez said through a translator. "It was high throughout the season in High-A and Double-A. The good results helped to strengthen that confidence level and I'm proving to myself that I'm able to play with the best players and the best prospects. I think I can be one of them."
Playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs in Arizona, Sanchez batted a team-high .387 in 11 games and finished with a 1.053 OPS. Before wrapping up the season, the 24-year-old infielder went 7-for-12 and drove in 7 runs while being named AFL Hitter of the Week.
Signed out of Cuba for $2.5 million in 2019, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Sanchez is aware the Sox need help at second base after Nick Madrigal was traded to the Cubs and Cesar Hernandez's $6 million club option for 2022 was declined.
"That's my goal," Sanchez said of joining the White Sox's roster. "I try to not think about it. I like to keep things simple, just do the best that I can do wherever I am playing, be the best player I can be, be the best teammate I can be. So far, that has been a good thing for me. That has kept me humble and focused on the stuff I need to work on and improve."