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Besties in the bigs: Nelson Velázquez joins Christopher Morel as he makes Cubs debut

Ryan Herrera Avatar
May 31, 2022

Could the careers of two players that featured hits in both of their first at-bats have started any more different than Nelson Velázquez and Christopher Morel’s?

Nearly two weeks ago, the 22-year-old Morel sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy when he launched one out to the left field bleachers in his first career at-bat.

After getting called up to the big league roster for the first time on Monday and immediately being put in right field for Game 1 of the split doubleheader against the Brewers, the 23-year-old Velázquez had a chance to do something similar.

He came up with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the second. The wind was blowing out to left field. It was the perfect time for a guy with a little bit of pop in his bat like Velázquez to pull a ball in the air and watch it fly. After working a 2-2 count, Velázquez swung at the offering from Milwaukee’s Ethan Small, and … well, let’s just say he didn’t match Morel’s home run.

That dribbler just past the pitcher had a 46.2 mph exit velocity, a -43 degree launch angle and a .180 expected average, a far cry from the blast with a 111.3 mph EV, a 25 degree LA and 1.000 xBA that traveled 417 feet off Morel’s bat on May 17.

Still, regardless of how it looks, the box score says it’s a hit. Which means Velázquez, in just his first at-bat in the big leagues, matched Morel with his first career knock.

So who better to be there to congratulate him with a hug than Morel, who Velázquez considers one of his best friends in the world?

“Nelson, for me, is like a brother, really,” Morel said through team interpreter Will Nadal when asked why that moment was so special for him. “Inside the baseball field, outside the baseball field, the only thing that’s missing is blood between us. We get along super well. He’s been there to support me, help me out. I’ve been there as well.”

On Sunday morning, Velázquez received a call from Iowa Cubs manager, Marty Pevey.

“Hey, how are you this morning?” Pevey asked him. “Did you get some breakfast?”

Velázquez hadn’t eaten yet, considering he’d only just woken up, but the news that Pevey was about to drop certainly gave him the jolt he needed to shake off the morning grogginess.

“You have been called up to the majors,” Pevey told Velázquez. “Thank you. Congratulations. It was nice to have you here. Just go there and have fun.”

Velázquez was like a kid on Christmas getting that news, and he said it was “dream come true.” He went on to call his family members, including his mother (who wasn’t home at the time), his father and his brother, as well as his personal trainer back in Puerto Rico.

He remembered to shoot Morel a text, too.

“When our game ended (on Sunday), I received a text message from him saying that he was going to meet me soon and see me soon, and I told him, ‘Stop kidding. You’re kidding with me,'” Morel said. “And he responded no, that he was going to come up. I’m just excited for the opportunity to be here and also play together.”

But why did he make sure to let Morel know he was on his way? Velázquez has had plenty of teammates throughout his time in the minor leagues. Did he send a message to everyone he ever played with?

Well, the reason why he made sure Morel got the news was because of that brotherhood they’ve established ever since Velázquez was picked with the Cubs’ fifth round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, nearly two years after Morel signed with the organization.

Over the last five years, everything about them has been close:

  • Their two home countries (Velázquez is from Puerto Rico, Morel is from the Dominican Republic) are separated by a very small part of the Atlantic Ocean, and their hometowns (Carolina and Santiago, respectively) aren’t much further from each other than Chicago is to St. Louis
  • Since Velázquez was drafted, the duo has spent at least a part of every season on the same team in the Cubs farm system
  • They’ve consistently been ranked within a few spots of each other on various Cubs prospect lists, with MLB Pipeline’s rankings (Velázquez is No. 16, Morel is No. 21) probably being the biggest gap between the two on any current list

Heck, even their lockers in the Cubs clubhouse are basically right next to each other, with only Jonathan Villar’s standing in between them. It’s really not hard to believe that Velázquez and Morel have managed to build a strong bond over the years.

“For me, it means a lot,” Velázquez said about being on the Cubs with Morel. “We have been together since 2017. We have been playing for different teams together. He’s my bestie. I’m very happy that he is here with me right now.”

The duo began the year in Double-A, where both completely mashed pitchers at that level.

Velázquez, in particular, displayed tremendous power, hitting nine home runs in just 80 at-bats (including seven in a 10-game stretch to end April) and finishing his run with the Smokies slugging .700. He was the first of the two to receive his promotion, getting moved up to Iowa on May 6.

“The sad part about spring is we didn’t get to see him much,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think watching last year and seeing some of the highlights of the adjustments he made, making some swing adjustments, and then just took off being in the Fall League and then being the MVP there. That just shows he’s carried that into this season.”

While Velázquez was grinding at the Triple-A level, the big league club gradually developed holes in both the infield and the outfield that needed to be plugged. To do that, they reached down into Double-A and recalled Morel, giving him a shot at the highest level of baseball.

Velázquez was happy for one of his favorite people in the world, of course, but he knew there was a very good chance his own shot was coming.

“When they called me up first to Triple-A, he stayed in Double-A, and then they called him to The Show,” Velázquez said. “I said, ‘I’m pretty close.’ Like, we had been playing together a lot of years. He’s a little bit more electric than me, but we have maybe kind of the same game. We’re aggressive every time. When I saw that they called him up, I said, ‘I’m pretty close to it, so let’s keep working.'”

It only took another two weeks for Velázquez to follow Morel’s path, getting his first call up to the majors as the Cubs began a stretch of nine divisional games in seven days. Whether it’s a call up that came just as an insurance plan behind Seiya Suzuki (who went on the 10-day IL with a sprained left ring finger in between the doubleheader games) or it’s a call up that will give Velázquez an extended shot in the bigs, getting that call is still the kind of moment that he’ll never forget.

And fortunately for him, his “bestie” will be right there to enjoy it with him.

“For me, it means everything,” Velázquez said. “It is a dream come true. It’s everything I wished (for) in my life.”

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