Velazquez ready for full-season challenge

SURPRISE, Ariz. - When outfielder Miguel Velazquez re-joined the Rangers' system last summer, he quickly became one of the most promising position-player prospects in the organization. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 21-year-old, who is currently headed to Single-A Hickory.

As an amateur player, outfielder Miguel Velazquez was always regarded as one of the top talents in Puerto Rico. Most Major League clubs felt he had the raw talent to go in the first or second round of the draft.

However, personal and legal troubles detailed in this story published last year by Spokesman-Review writer Greg Lee dropped Velazquez to the 19th round of the 2006 draft, where the Texas Rangers took a shot on the talented athlete.

The outfielder eventually signed with the Rangers for a $72,000 bonus, and he made his debut the following summer, playing with the rookie-level AZL Rangers. Velazquez had an outstanding debut, batting .330 with five doubles, two triples, two home runs and seven steals in just 24 games.

After his debut campaign, Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger was impressed with Velazquez's raw talent.

"He's a very exciting player," said Boulanger during a 2007 interview. "He's pretty much a five-tool guy. He's a guy that I project to play in the Major Leagues someday."

Unfortunately, Velazquez's troubles caused him to return to Puerto Rico and miss the entire 2008 season. According to Lee, Velazquez was forced to stay in his native country for the entire year, so the Rangers placed him on the restricted list. He received three years' probation.

The prospect was able to return to the states in 2009, though, and he immediately became one of the system's top position-player prospects.

Following an impressive short stint with the AZL Rangers to make sure he was prepared for game action, the Rangers promoted Velazquez to short-season Spokane.

Velazquez quickly became one of the team's most potent hitters, batting .297 with 12 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs in 54 games. The results weren't bad for a player that had been away from the game since 2007.

The 21-year-old is currently on his way to Single-A Hickory, where he will play everyday in the outfield and bat in the middle of the lineup. At 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, Velazquez is a strong hitter with strong tools across the board, including plus raw power.

Velazquez spent most of his time in centerfield during Spring Training, although he profiles as a corner outfielder down the line. Though Velazquez must work on his reads–as he explains below–he moves around well in the outfield and has above-average arm strength.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with the outfielder on the final day of Spring Training.

Jason Cole: You had a pretty strong showing with the Spokane Indians last year, especially for being your first year back on the field. How did you feel about it?

Miguel Velazquez: It felt kind of weird when I was hitting because it was a year and a half without swinging a bat. But after that, I was okay. I had a great season. I enjoyed my season. I never expected those stats, but I did it, so I was proud of myself. Everything was okay with me. This year, I just want to be focused for the entire season and prepare myself for 140-something games. It's a long way.

Cole: Were you here in Extended Spring Training last year before you went out to Spokane?

Velazquez: Yeah. I played like 20-something games, and then I played 10 in the rookie league. Then they promoted me to Spokane.

Cole: When you got to Spokane after those 30-ish games in Arizona, did you feel you were ready for everyday at-bats at that level?

Velazquez: Yeah, I was so ready. I was waiting for that–to be promoted to Spokane. I felt like, ‘Wow, when are they going to promote me?' They did and I was happy.

Cole: What was your primary focus offensively last year when you were in Spokane?

Velazquez: My high kick. They told me that this is a different league–the pitchers are different from rookie league. Their command is way better. You've got to be focused and you have to work on your high kick because they're not going to throw a fastball like they did in rookie league. So I was working with my leg kick.

Cole: What did you do over the offseason to prepare for your first year of full-season ball? Were you back in Puerto Rico?

Velazquez: I played in the winter league back in Puerto Rico. We played for like three months, and it was a great experience for me. I played with a lot of guys that, right now, are in the big leagues. They told me that it's good for me and for my career.

Cole: How did you like being able to play in your home country with a lot of guys from your home country?

Velazquez: I was so happy. I haven't played in my country for like three years, so I was really happy when I got that chance. I was like, ‘Wow, this is the place where I came from.' The people that saw me play all my games before I signed pro–I was happy.

Cole: Are you planning on doing winterball in future offseasons as well?

Velazquez: Yeah. Actually, I have got to go back when the season is over. I have to go back to play in Puerto Rico. The team wants me to play again. They want me to stay in shape and stay playing.

Cole: It's the last day of Spring Training before you ship out to Hickory. How do you feel you played?

Velazquez: I think I'm doing pretty good. You have your good games and your bad games, but I feel like I'm doing good. I feel good.

Cole: Have you been working on anything else offensively this spring?

Velazquez: I've been working on offspeed pitches and my kick–to control it. I don't want to get out of balance.

Cole: For the most part, you were a right fielder with Spokane last year. But you've been playing most of your games in center this spring, right?

Velazquez: Yeah.

Cole: You didn't play much center in Spokane, did you?

Velazquez: No, I didn't play much, but this season is different because they want me to get better on my defense–with my jumps. That's why I'm playing centerfield right now.

Cole: Do you expect to be playing center in Hickory as well?

Velazquez: Yeah, If I've got to play I'll play. I can play left field, center, right–whatever. If they want me to play in centerfield, I'll do it.

Cole: Is there one outfield spot you're more comfortable at right now or are they about the same to you?

Velazquez: For me, it's all the same. It's all the same.

Cole: After over a month out here doing drills and playing exhibition games, how much are you looking forward to getting to Hickory and starting the season?

Velazquez: Oh man, I'm so excited. I'm just ready for the season to start, you know? I'm just ready.

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