Otto Franceschi Velez | DH,RF,LF | 1977-1982
Here is a name from the distant past. Otto Velez was born November 29, 1950, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1968, by the New York Yankees. In 1973 he made it to the majors playing in 23 games as a September call up for the Yankees. For the next 3 seasons, he played a handful of games for the Yankees but he was blocked from a full-time job by the Yankee’s fondness for signing free agents.
The Jays picked Otto up in the major league expansion draft in 1976. That first year the Jays were awful, finishing with a 54-107 record and didn’t get much better in the years Otto was with the team. But, he was pretty good, in 1977 he hit .256/.366/.458 with 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 120 games. He had a good eye at the plate leading the team in walks. He mostly played right field that year and he was, well, terrible as an RFer. Rob Neyer says that Velez was the worst right fielder in team history and I can’t argue that. He had little range and basically no arm at all. But the team had a 38 year old Ron Fairly and a handful of other guys that really couldn’t field, so the DH spot was filled. A typical right-handed slugger he crushed lefties, hitting them at a .318/.420/.527 rate.
Playing in our first ever game, Otto went 2 for 4 with a walk. And he had a terrific first month. At the end of April, he was hitting .442/.531/.865 with 5 home runs, 18 RBI, 11 walks, and 11 strikeouts.
In 1978, the Jays weren’t any better, but Velez still hit quite well batting .266/.380/.448 with 9 homers and 38 RBI in 91 games. His playing time was split between left and right field, he also DHed some and played a game at first. He continued to crush LHP, hitting .302/.421/.560 against them.
In 1979 he hit .288/.396/.529 in 99 games with 15 home runs and 48 RBI. He again played mostly left and right field, DHed in 9 games, and played first 6 times. Fangraphs has 1979 as Otto’s best season, giving him a 2.8 WAR. Otto had a reverse split that year.
1980 saw Velez become a full-time DH, playing 97 games as a DH and 3 at first base. He set career highs in home runs (20), runs (54) and tied his high for RBI (62). He hit .269/.365/.487 and an OPS+ of 127 his 4th straight year with the Jays with an OPS+ over 120. On May 4th he hit four home runs in a doubleheader against Cleveland and he hit one of each type, solo, two-run, three-run, and a grand slam.
1981, the strike year Velez had a poor season batting .213/.363/.404. When he was a young player he had old player skills and turning 30 those skills diminished quickly. 1982 he played in just 28 games, hitting just .192. He was replaced at DH by Dave Revering and a cast of thousands. After the 1982 season, the Jays released him and he signed with Cleveland. He played just 10 games for the Indians and that was the end of his major league career at 32.
In 6 seasons with the Blue Jays, Otto hit .257/.372/.461 with 72 home runs in 522 games.
Career he played 11 seasons (well parts of 11 seasons), hitting .251/.369/.411 with 78 home runs.
The early Jays were a pretty poor group, Velez was one of the few reasonable players they had. He was a pretty good DH type, had a really good eye at the plate and good power. The problem (well one of the many problems) the Jays had was they had too many DH types. The other teams didn’t offer up many guys who could both hit and play defense in the expansion draft.
There is very little information on the web about Otto. He coached the Puerto Rico National Team in the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 Baseball World Cup. And that’s about all that can be found about his post major league life. If anyone has any more information about Otto Velez, let me know.
There is a story from the Buffalo News about Otto’s Army:
Throughout the years Velez spent with Toronto, the faith of his Buffalo loyalists never dwindled. They had T-shirts and buttons carrying his name. They saw him in Detroit, where the fans – confusing Otto-mania with allegiance to the Blue Jays – pelted the group with chunks of food until security intervened.
On an otherwise quiet day in Cleveland’s old and vast Municipal Stadium, the Army’s constant plea for their favorite eventually led the 7,000 or so in the place to offer a standing ovation when Velez came up to pinch-hit, as the chant echoed to every corner of the place.
“Otto! Otto! Otto!”
The regulars recall how Velez would respond by sometimes tipping his hat, how he once walked onto the field and gave them a bow.
And he had the nickname Otto the Swatto. Other than he seemed happy to be in Toronto, I don’t remember too much about him.
Otto Velez’ ranking among Jay batting leaders:
Batting Average (>1500 AB): 34th, .257
On Base % (>1500 AB): 7th, .372 (tied with Jose Bautista)
Slugging % (>1500 AB): 15th, .461
OPS (>1500 AB): 9th, .834
Games Played: 41st, 522
At Bats: 46th, 1531
Runs: 45th, 214
Hits: 47th, 394
Total Bases: 42nd, 706
Doubles: 45th, 76
Home Runs: 28th, 72
RBI: 35th, 243
Walks: 20th, 278