Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez is off to a stupendous start in 2016. Yesterday's nine-inning brutalization of the San Diego Padres (16 strikeouts, zero runs, zero walks, three hits) came on the heels of his fine six shutout innings against the New York Mets on April 9th. Overall, Velasquez has thrown 15 shutout innings in his first two starts, allowing a mere six hits with a stunning 25/3 K/BB ratio.
Velasquez is not a technical rookie, having pitched 56 innings with the Houston Astros last year, so he doesn't show up on prospect lists. He's still only 23 years old, however, so he certainly qualifies as a "young talent" who up until now wasn't firmly established. Let's take a look.
My last big write-up on Velasquez was in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:
Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Houston Astros
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 205 DOB: June 7, 1992
2011: Grade C; 2012: Grade C; 2013: Grade C+; 2014: Grade B
I love watching this guy pitch. He’ll ring up plenty of 94-95 marks but even when he’s at 92-93, the fastball moves so much that most hitters can’t handle it. This works even better because of the contrast with his excellent change-up. The breaking ball comes and goes, varying between weak/poor and plus depending on what day you see him. His command is likewise inconsistent, but when it is on he can blow through anyone’s lineup. The big trouble is health: he has had two serious elbow injuries, already has Tommy John on the resume, and is seemingly vulnerable to all kinds of nagging muscle pulls and pain tweaks that reduce his efficiency or keep him off the mound completely. He is a Grade B+ on talent alone but factoring the durability factor into the equation holds him at Grade B.
In 297 career minor league innings, Velasquez posted a 3.28 ERA with an excellent 354/101 K/BB and just 235 hits allowed. He pitched well for the Astros last year; although his 4.37 ERA wasn't terrific and his control wasn't perfect with 20 walks, his FIP was much better at 3.46 and he showed his potential with 58 strikeouts.The Astros are saber-savvy, so they had to know that his 4.37 ERA last year was misleading before including him in the Ken Giles trade.
As noted in the old comment there's never been any question about his stuff or natural talent; he was clocked as high as 99 last year and that fastball isn't straight. His secondary pitches, erratic for much of his minor league career, have been excellent this season. Jeff Sullivan has a good breakdown with video at Fangraphs with good looks at the fastball, curve, slider, and change-up. Everything was working yesterday.
Velasquez's stuff is unmistakable to both the naked eye and the stat sheet. His baseline control has always been pretty solid and he's developed command within the strike zone now. All that is obvious.
In my view, Velasquez is not a fluke in any way. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff, he now has consistency with his secondary pitches, and he's developed impressive command to go with it. The ability to be a legitimate ace is actualized.
The only question now is health and durability. It doesn't seem like the Astros believed he would hold up long-term. How will the Phillies handle him? Can he hold up under a typical number one/two starter workload, 200+ innings year after year?
If you were the Phillies, assuming he continues to blow people away, how hard would you push Velasquez? 160 innings? 180? 200+?