Velasquez flashed onto radar four months ago

Velasquez flashed onto radar four months ago

HOUSTON -- Vincent Velasquez was already a known commodity among scouts on the West Coast when he took the mound at the third annual MLB Scouting Bureau Southern California Invitational Showcase at the Urban Youth Academy in February.

Draft Central

He grew up playing shortstop, and was drawing attention for his bat and his defensive skills more than his ability to pitch. But that changed four months ago at the showcase in Compton, Calif., where Velasquez struck out all four batters he faced with a dazzling variety of pitches.

"That's what really helped me out and got me interest from a lot of ball clubs," Velasquez said.

Velasquez, a senior at Garey High School in Pomona, Calif., certainly caught the eyes of scout Tim Costic and the Astros, who drafted the right-handed pitcher Tuesday in the second round (No. 58 overall) of the First-Year Player Draft.

"It's a dream come true for me," said Velasquez, who attended the Astros' pre-Draft workout last week at Minute Maid Park. "Growing up I always wanted to enter the Draft or be a Major League prospect. It's something I've always wanted to do."

Velasquez, who turned 18 on Monday, signed a national letter of intent to play at Cal State Fullerton, but he said Tuesday he's leaning towards the Astros.

"At this point, I'll make a commitment with the Astros," he said. "Going to Fullerton, they wanted me to be a shortstop, but I have an opportunity to get into my professional career, and I have an opportunity to be in the Majors in three or four years. I think it's better to begin my Major League contract and go on from there."

Velasquez hit .608 with 29 RBIs, 44 runs scored, 14 doubles, five triples, two homers and struck out only four times in 80 at-bats as a senior. He also stole 18 bases and was caught just twice. On the mound, he was 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA, 52 strikeouts and eight walks in 49 innings pitched.

A rangy, 6-foot-3 switch-hitter, he grew up playing shortstop and pitcher, but injured his right elbow early last year from overuse. He was shut down from throwing for six weeks before getting his release in time to get prepared for the showcase.

"I let it all out that day," he said.

Monse Estrada, the long-time baseball coach at Garey, said Velasquez is one of the most special kids he's come in contact with in his 37 years of coaching.

"He's a really humble kid," Estrada said. "He doesn't mind helping other kids, working with them or talking to them. He led by example, and worked really hard all the time. He did his normal work, and then practiced some more on the side to get to where he's at. His teachers like him, the kids like him around school. One thing about him is he's real mature. He handles his presence on the mound extremely well."

Estrada gives credit to Velasquez's parents, Leonard and Juanita, for raising him the right way in an environment where kids can easily get steered in other directions. He said Velasquez is a good role model for other students, and he still helps around the house by cutting grass, washing clothes and helping with dinner.

Estrada said Velasquez's father makes sure he gives back to the community by helping out at area Little League parks.

"You have to commend his parents," Estrada said. "He has great parents. His dad emphasized that a lot. We're pretty excited about this, and the kids are pretty excited about it here. It just shows in our school, our socioeconomic area, you can put the work in, and work hard, and things can happen.

"He's been blessed with a gift. God gave him a lot of talent, and he didn't misuse it. He used it to his full potential. The Astros will be very pleased with his personality, work ethic, and everything else."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.