Andrew Velazquez was on the bus heading to Kaiser Stadium for Fordham Prep’s CHSAA Class AA championship tournament elimination game Tuesday when he received a call from his father, Kenny.
After a brief pause, he delivered the news.
Short and sweet.
“They called,” Kenny said.
Andrew knew exactly what that meant and soon, so did his teammates, who mobbed the Rams star shortstop, shaking the bus when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Velazquez in the seventh round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“I’ve been nervous for two days straight,” Velazquez said. “All the hard work leading up to this, it’s a relief. It paid off.”
Velazquez, 17, was the first New York City player drafted this year, long before George Washington catcher Nelson Rodriguez was picked by Cleveland in the 15th round.
“I definitely didn’t expect that, with Nelson, Fernelys [Sanchez from George Washington], those are some great players in the city,” Velazquez said, adding that Rodriguez was the first to call and congratulate him. “That was tremendous in itself.”
The five-tool player said Arizona’s Todd Donovan was the only scout to aggressively pursue him. Others gave what Kenny Velazquez called a “token look,” but the Diamondbacks were there since the Area Code Games tryout a year ago.
“There was nobody else coming,” Kenny Velazquez said. “A couple of other teams gave him a token look, but this guy saw something, he believes in him and the Diamondbacks believe in him.”
Donovan said Velazquez’s approach, desire and Major League tools are what convinced him to give the Fordham Prep shortstop a look. He saw Velazquez five times this year, confirming his first impression.
“Players sometimes play extremely anxious, other guys seem to be playing lazy, but there was just something about Andrew that gave me the feeling that the game was easy to him,” Donovan said. “Considering he was a middle of the field defender with tools that currently play in the Major Leagues, I felt he was somebody I had to follow closely.”
“At the end of the day, what I’m selling my organization on is middle of the field defender, leadoff hitter, switch hitter, plays the game with an ease of operation, 17 years old, wants to play baseball,” Donovan added.
Velazquez, who was on the cover of the spring issue of MSG Varsity The Magazine, signed a National Letter of Intent with Virginia Tech, but on Tuesday he said he’ll likely forgo that scholarship and sign with the Diamondbacks.
“At this point, I think me and the Diamondbacks are on the same page,” he said. “We’ve been talking about money for a while now. It shouldn’t be any hard negotiations. If not, I’ll go to Virginia Tech, but at this moment, I’m optimistic.”
Velazquez said he had an idea he’d be selected between the fifth and 10th round. But when the reality hit, it was almost too much to comprehend.
“I have no words for it,” he said. “It’s still kind of surreal…It’s not every day you get drafted.”
But it was every day that Velazquez worked to get drafted.
“It’s a lot of work put in, a lot of stuff every day,” Kenny Velazquez said. “It’s not easy. Talent only takes you so far.”
“My first word was ball so I guess I had it destined,” Andrew Velazquez added.
While some scouts might have shied away because of Velazquez’s size – he’s 5-foot-8 – Fordham Prep coach Pat Deane said Velazquez can do everything on the field.
“His speed definitely separated him from a lot of people, his arm strength, his range at short, the fact that he can drop a bunt down the first-base line or park one in right field,” Deane said. “He hits for power, he hits for average. On the base pads he’s a terror.”
“When you come and see him play, you don’t see the size,” Deane added. “He plays bigger than he is.”
But even more impressive, Deane said, is Velazquez’s personality.
“He’s a better kid than he is a ballplayer,” he said. “He’s a good boy, a gentleman.”
Velazquez wasn’t just the first New York City player drafted this year, he’s also the first ever from Fordham Prep.
“I came in trying to make my mark in high school and today is basically the peak of my high school career,” he said.
It’s a career that’s not over. Fordham Prep was set to play St. Joseph by the Sea Tuesday night at St. John’s University with the winner advancing to face Iona Prep in the championship Friday night at Kaiser Stadium.
The game was postponed because of inclement weather and will be played Wednesday at 5 p.m., giving Velazquez at least one more game to add to his legacy.
“I like to look at myself as an underdog, a well-kept secret,” Velazquez said. “[The Diamondbacks] obviously saw something that maybe other scouts didn’t see. But it only takes one team out of 30 teams. All the teams don’t have to like you.”
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