Left-hander Antonio Velez, acquired by the Orioles in trade with Marlins, could rise quickly with ‘elite’ command

The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore Sun

Antonio Velez’s season was about to take off before it all screeched to a halt.

The left-handed pitcher for Florida State had just compiled his best outing of the season, earning his first start on the mound for a midweek game against top-ranked Florida. Velez, the newest Oriole who was acquired in a trade Sunday, didn’t blow any Gators away with his velocity, but the command he showed in six scoreless innings proved to Seminoles pitching coach Jimmy Belanger that Velez was ready to move into the weekend rotation.

But he didn’t get the chance. His college career abruptly ended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the shortened Major League Baseball draft meant the five rounds went by without Velez’s name being called.

Instead of returning to Florida State at Belanger’s urging, Velez bet on himself. He landed with the Miami Marlins, and the undrafted free agent impressed at the High-A and Double-A levels. Now, he’s part of the Orioles organization, a piece in a trade that sent relievers Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott to Miami .

While Velez will likely start out at Double-A Bowie, a path to Baltimore could materialize for a 25-year-old who isn’t looking to be anyone but himself.

“He knows who he is,” Belanger said. “Everyone wants to throw hard, and everyone chases the velocity. I think he knows that’s not him. Like a lot of pitchers, they find other ways to have success. And he knows his way of having success.”

Much of that blueprint goes back to his start against Florida, facing the No. 1 ranked team in the country. With his fastball, changeup and slider, Velez allowed one hit, striking out seven batters while walking two. That’s been Velez’s calling card throughout his career: If he’s not blowing a batter away, he’ll needle the corners.

It’s led to a quick rise in the minors. Across 81 innings in High-A, Velez struck out 75 batters and walked just nine. When he was promoted to the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, Florida, Velez started three games. He lasted six innings in each, walking two batters while striking out 18 with a 0.778 WHIP.

He’s not the headliner of the trade. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was most excited about the top-70 draft pick he received for this summer’s draft, a Competitive Balance Round B selection. The Orioles also received 17-year-old outfielder Kevin Guerrero and a player to be named later.

However, Velez could be closest to breaking through at the big-league level as a spot starter, especially with uncertainty around the rotation.

“Antonio Velez is a starting pitcher that’s had nothing but success in the minor leagues thus far, and we’ll see where the dust settles exactly,” Elias said. “If he’s not going to report to Bowie directly — although I think he will — he’ll be there almost immediately and could be in Triple-A very quickly if he continues what he did last year in Pensacola.”

And continuing what he did in Pensacola would be a continuation of what Velez has done throughout his career to this point.

“It’s elite, elite command of every pitch,” Belanger said. “That’s what his deal is. He doesn’t walk anybody.”

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