The Tampa Bay Rays like to find favorable trade opportunities by finding players whose teams are not harnessing them to the full extent of their abilities. A great example was Drew Smyly in the David Price deal.
While it remains to be seen how Smyly will perform moving forward, the Rays were able to get excellent results from him in his first seven starts with the team through a pair of subtle changes. They had him throw more fastballs up in the zone and use his cutter significantly more against right-handed batters, and suddenly people were asking why the Detroit Tigers had not done the same things. Sometimes teams view their players too narrowly, and that is when they can be exploited. The Rays are hoping that similar things will be said about Andrew Velazquez in a few years.
"Scouts were puzzled that he spent all of last year in the Midwest League as he was too advanced for the league."
One addendum that must be made to that (as pointed out in the comments to this piece) is that Velazquez was actually promoted to High-A, but only for the California League postseason. In nine games for the Visalia Rawhide, Velazquez hit to a .276/.323/.448 line with 3 doubles, a triple, and 4 RBI in 31 plate appearances. Granted, he did strike out 10 times while walking only twice, but it is hardly surprising that there was adjustment period once Velazquez moved up to High-A, especially given that he was facing postseason pitching and also DHing after playing shortstop all season.
At the end of the day, Andrew Velazquez was finally promoted. However, if he had already figured out the Midwest League, why did it take until the very end of the season for him to advance? One possible explanation is that the D-Backs had a promising High-A shortstop and did not want to mess with his development. Indeed, that is the case–Raul Navarro enjoyed a nice season for the Rawhide. The issue, though, is that especially after Triple-A Reno shortstop Nick Ahmed was promoted to the major leagues, Arizona easily could have bumped Navarro up to Double-A and Velazquez to High-A, with one of their two Double-A shortstops filling in for Ahmed at Reno.
Speaking of those Double-A shortstops, neither Sean Jamieson nor Nate Samson is a real prospect. It was nice to get them playing time–and both played well–but why were they holding back younger and better-regarded players? Even if Ahmed was eventually demoted back to Triple-A (indeed, he was), wouldn’t the additional experience at higher levels for the other players be worth the loss in playing time for that pair?
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The second thought that comes to mind is that maybe Velazquez or Navarro was struggling and missed his chance to be promoted, but that does not make sense either. Navarro had a .737 OPS when Amhed made his MLB debut on June 29th (he finished at .789) while Velazquez was at .839 (he finished at .796). Maybe we can look at the fact that Navarro improved afterwards and say that the extra development was worthwhile. We can also assert that Velazquez was playing a little bit over his head. The issue, however, is that the D-Backs were not making a one-time, binary decision with the options yes or no.
There were so many things that the Arizona Diamondbacks could have done to get Andrew Velazquez a longer audition at High-A. They could have waited until Navarro was playing better–he caught fire in mid-July–and brought up both players then. They could have sent Velazquez to Visalia and had the two players coexist until Navarro was ready to Double-A. That was quite feasible given that both players can play second base and Arizona’s High-A second basemen were unimpressive. They even could have promoted whichever Rawhide second baseman they liked to Double-A because there was no much going on at the keystone there either.
We don’t know how Andrew Velazquez would have performed if he had been promoted to High-A in late June or early July. Maybe he would have sputtered, and his prospect stock would have plummeted because of that. Nevertheless, the Rays looked at Velazquez’s development and saw a process error in the D-Backs’ system. They saw a player who just might be closer to the big leagues than what a full season at Low-A and only a brief stint at High-A would seem to indicate.
There is no guarantee that the Rays are right–maybe there was another factor involved in Arizona’s decision. Even if Velazquez pans out, it will likely be entirely unrelated to this bizarre sequence of events. But though much remains unclear, that should not divert our focus from the bottom line of this issue. Matt Silverman and the Rays saw a player who deserved a better opportunity that what his team was giving him, and they are excited to see what he can do as part of their organization.