Before the 2006 season nobody knew much about Eugenio Velez. The infielder bounced around the very lowest levels of professional baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays before he landed in the San Francisco organization. Splash landed is the proper term for Velez in the biggest season of his career—most valuable player, offensive player of the year, career highs in batting average and home runs and playing a huge role in the success of one of the best teams in the Giants' minor league system. Not bad for a Rule 5 selection from one season ago.
Velez owned the South Atlantic League in 2006. He was named league MVP and won the batting title, as well as the Class-A offensive player of the year. His Augusta Greenjackets won 92 games and made it to the league finals. Velez kept the streak of Augusta dominance alive in the Sally League when he won the batting title. Brian Horwitz won it in 2005.
While known for his speed since he played in the Dominican Summer League in 2002 where he stole 28 bases, 2006 was the first year where he showed power. Velez combined 90 runs batted in and 14 home runs with 64 steals this season, and set the league record for triples with 20. The boost in power and hitting for average come in his first full season at the low-A level, still the highest level he's played despite being 24 years old.
That it has taken a speedy switch hitting middle infielder this long to make an impression is a concern, but those plugged into the Giants' minor league happenings are not worried. Augusta manager Roberto Kelly has mentioned Velez's combination of power and speed on the same level as Kelly's one-time teammate Rickey Henderson, except with the potential for more power.
Giants director of player development Jack Hiatt watched Velez from the minute he landed with the Giants in the instructional league, where Velez was switched around positions up the middle: his usual shortstop with playing time at second base and in center field. Hiatt said of Velez, "We're grooming a guy who has the tools to do multiple things. We're hoping that he can be some help to our big club before the summer is over next year."
Velez's progress as a hitter shows in his ability to hit well with runners on base and the ever-important runners in scoring position. In 2006 he hit .341 with runners on and .331 with runners in scoring position. One hitting weakness may be his switch hitting. He hit much better in Augusta against right-handed pitching, both for average and for power. (.356 BA and 11 HR vs. right handed pitching, .241 BA and 3 HR vs. left handed pitching)
The Giants are serious about keeping Velez since they added him to the 40-man roster so as to not lose him in another Rule 5 draft. With Hiatt's comments on what the club expects from Velez the team expects big things from a guy coming off a big year. San Francisco is well-stocked with talent up the middle and Velez can add to that stock with a few more fine seasons like 2006.
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Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 24th season of fandom. Love/hate mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.
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