Nelson Velázquez brings volatile potential to KC Royals lineup

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Let's look at outfielder Nelson Velázquez.

I was frankly surprised the KC Royals had any sort of return for reliever Jose Cuas last year. Don't get me wrong, Cuas wasn't a terrible reliever, but not one with a headline trade market. The Chicago Cubs sent slugging outfielder Nelson Velázquez to Kansas City for Cuas in the minor deadline deal. However, Velázquez has enraptured fans' imaginations ahead of Opening Day after a stellar Royals debut and tantalizing tools.

Velázquez started his Royals tenure off with a bang, becoming the fifth Kansa City player to hit a home run in their first plate appearance with the team. That game, his first start on Aug. 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals, was only the beginning of a fascinating end to 2023 for Velázquez.

From his Royals debut on Aug. 10 to the season's end, only one other AL player had more home runs than Velázquez's 14. That came in a 40-game span where the Royals turned things around in the win-loss columns when you grade it on the Kansas City curve. Velázquez had similar success in Chicago, but a crowded outfield room pushed him to Triple-A, wasting his talents. Kansas City gave Velázquez the one thing his talent could give him: a chance.

Now, how will Velázquez build upon his 2023 run and improve in 2024? FanGraphs' projections are hardly what Royals fans want to see, however.

How FanGraphs projects he will perform for KC Royals

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) predicts some notable regression from Velázquez, also limiting him to only 83 games. They predict only 15 home runs in 357 plate appearances, and his wRC+ to fall from 132 to 96 in 2024.

How Nelson Velázquez will actually perform

There is no argument against Velázquez's 2023 success coming in a very small sample size. He was electric at that time, but carrying his strong bat across 100+ games is easier said than done. His 14 HR and 34 RBI in with the Royals last season set him on a 162-game pace for 56 home runs and 137 RBI. Those are some MVP caliber numbers, but hard seeing any Royals batter reaching those numbers in a season.It seems FanGraphs is putting entirely too much weight into that though.

Velázquez's slow spring performance is not doing him any favors though. There are pockets of Royals fans calling for him to start the season in Triple-A Omaha, with Nick Pratto taking his place on the Opening Day roster. Imagine thinking that in early February. But, Velázquez's doubters do have a fair point with his spring training results backing them up.

The Puerto Rican will only be 25 come Opening Day, with time to progress and minor-league options remaining. However, he remains a strong designated hitter candidate for the MLB lineup. He was Kansas City's primary choice at one point this spring, but one wonders if his standing has changed in recent weeks. Even if Velázquez begins the season in Triple-A, his MLB return is a matter of when rather than if.

Even if Velázquez's games are limited, he will far outpace FanGraphs' expectations. I expect him to have a 20-home run season and post an above-average wRC+. He will not replicate his 2023 pace, but will still be a powerful bat in Kauffman Stadium.

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