Velazquez working on realizing his potential

TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2009

Taking advantage of second chance

Miguel Velazquez is trying to make the most of a second chance to fulfill his father’s dream for him.

The Spokane Indians right fielder was a highly touted prospect going into his senior year of high school in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when stupidity trumped common sense. He made a rash decision that cost him much money, too.

Velazquez was considered a possible first- or second-round draft pick in the summer of 2006. But his stock slipped precipitously when he was involved in a shooting with his brother in March 2006.

As Velazquez tells it, there was a dispute with a neighbor. Velazquez said his neighbor tried to kill his sister. He and his brother came to her defense, and his brother shot and seriously injured the man.

“I didn’t use this,” Velazquez said, pointing to his head.

The police arrested Velazquez and his brother. It took a while for the case to move through the judicial system.

The Texas Rangers’ Puerto Rico scout, Frankie Thon, checked into the situation. He told the Rangers that Velazquez was a great kid from a rough background.

The Rangers decided to give Velazquez a chance, drafting him in the 19th round. He signed and played 23 games in the Arizona League in 2007.

“Teams were afraid to take a chance with me,” Velazquez said. “But Frankie Thon knows me as a person and a player. He knew that was out of character. He checked into it.”

He returned to Puerto Rico, where he had to deal with the pending legal issues. He had to stay in Puerto Rico last summer and received three years’ probation.

It’s a mistake Velazquez said he won’t make again.

In terms of baseball abilities, it wasn’t a risk to draft Velazquez, according to a 2007 scouting report on the Internet. In the report, Thon said: “(He) would be a top two round talent if we’re just looking at his ability. He’s a five-tool prospect who can do everything on the baseball field. He is well aware of the debt he is paying, both in terms of the money he’s losing up front in baseball and for his commitment to fulfilling his obligations to the Puerto Rican legal system. But don’t be surprised if he’s ready for the big leagues in three-four years. He has that kind of talent and physical maturity.”

Attempts to reach Thon were unsuccessful.

Velazquez returned to the Arizona League in June. He played in nine games and hit .294 with one homer and six RBIs when he was promoted to Spokane.

“When we got him, he played like a man among boys the first week,” Spokane manager Tim Hulett said. “He was swinging the bat great and was very aggressive on the base paths. That was great to see.”

Velazquez has had some difficulty adapting to changes by the Rangers to his batting mechanics. He’s used to holding his hands and the bat high, but Texas teaches holding them just under his shoulder above his stomach.

“It’s feeling better,” he said. “I just have to be patient. I have to trust the new approach. If I fix my mechanics and can go to a higher level, it will be better for me.”

Hulett had a meeting recently with Velazquez.

“I asked him what his weakness is and he said it’s his brain,” Hulett said. “Baseball is a mind-set. I told him we’re here to help him make it to the big leagues, but I just don’t want him to make it to the big leagues. I want him to be a superstar in the big leagues. To do that he’s got to come to play every day and lay it out there on the line.”

Velazquez hopes to fulfill his late father’s dream.

“He dreamed that I would be a professional player some day,” he said.

His father died in 2002 after a short bout with pancreatic cancer.

Velazquez has heard all the talk about his abilities. But he knows he won’t make it to the big club on potential alone.

“A lot of people have told me I can make the big league team, but you have to keep working hard,” he said. “You have to work hard every day and be out of trouble, of course.”

So far so good, as far as Hulett can tell.

“I asked what he’s doing to separate himself from 3,500 other players in the minor leagues,” Hulett said. “He’s doing all the right things. This is his second chance. Second chances are good and you have to make different choices. And he’s doing a good job with it. He’s got all the tools. Now it’s up to him.”

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