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2021 Arizona Complex League Top 10 Prospects

Kevin Alcantara Billmitchell
Kevin Alcantara (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

The Arizona League was renamed the Arizona Complex League following MLB’s restructuring of the minor leagues. The Rookie classification remained the same, but the number of teams shrunk from 21 in 2019 to 18 this season, with the Giants, Brewers and Royals each fielding two squads.

With the draft moving from June to July, the ACL was a tale of two seasons. Rosters in the first half consisted mostly of Latin American players, making the league feel more like an extension of the Dominican Summer League. As draft picks signed and joined the league in the second half, league more closely resembled a cross between Rookie ball and the old half-season level.

Eleven first-round picks from the 2021 draft made their professional debuts in the ACL. In order of selection, they were: Jordan Lawlar (D-backs), Benny Montgomery (Rockies), Harry Ford (Mariners), Will Bednar (Giants), Sal Frelick (Brewers), Matt McLain (Reds), Colson Montgomery (White Sox), Max Muncy (Athletics), Jackson Merrill (Padres), Maddux Bruns (Dodgers) and Jay Allen (Reds).

This year’s prospect list is very hitter-heavy and includes several intriguing below-the-radar Latin players, such as top prospect Elly De La Cruz of the Reds, who was relatively unknown coming into the season. In their return to the league for the first time since 2000, the Rockies led all teams with a 43-16 record.

1. Elly De La Cruz, 3B/SS, Reds
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht: 6-5. Wt: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.

De la Cruz, who signed for just $65,000, was an unknown commodity coming into extended spring training, but it didn’t take long for scouts covering the Arizona backfields to notice the tall, lanky switch-hitting athlete with a plethora of plus tools. The 19-year-old played just 11 games in the ACL, producing a batting line of .400/.455/.780 before being promoted to Low-A Daytona.

Drawing frequent comparisons to Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz as an extra tall and strong infielder with a sky-high ceiling, de la Cruz is a plus-plus athlete and has plus-plus speed and plus raw power. He may wind up at third base or even the outfield, where his plus arm will be more than enough. De la Cruz is an aggressive hitter able to manage his long levers at the plate and make adjustments during at-bats, but he expands his zone and needs to learn to wait for pitches he can drive.

“Power, speed, character—he’s just got tons of upside,” Reds manager Bryan LaHair said.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Elly de la Cruz, 3B/SS, Reds5013206231341520.400.455.780

2. James Wood, OF, Padres
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-7. Wt: 240. Drafted: HS—Bradenton, Fla., 2021 (2nd round).

The Padres selected Wood with the 62nd overall pick and signed the IMG Academy product for a well above-slot $2.6 million. Coming off a disappointing senior season with a higher-than-expected strikeout rate, Wood was encouraged by the Padres’ coaching staff to widen his stance to use his legs more and get more upright in the box to flatten out his swing.

The results of the new setup contributed to Wood going 12 for his last 23 (.522) while hitting two of his three homers in the final week.

Wood has an intriguing mix of size and speed, with plus-plus raw power and good instincts and bat-to-ball skills at the plate. “He’s a very cerebral hitter,” said Chris Kemp, the Padres’ vice president of international scouting and field coordinator. “He’s very smart in the box with a low pulse.”

Much larger than the prototype center fielder, Wood may be able to stay up the middle because of the ground he covers with his long strides and plus speed. His above-average arm would fit in right field.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
James Wood, OF, Padres861832503221332100.372.465.535

3. Owen Caissie, OF, Cubs
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Burlington, Ont., 2020 (2nd round/Padres).

Drafted by the Padres in 2020 and traded to the Cubs that offseason as part of the return for Yu Darvish, Caissie made a loud statement as one of the best hitters in Arizona before a late-August promotion to Low-A Myrtle Beach.

Caissie stands out for his approach at the plate, with feel to hit, a compact bat path and ability to use the whole field. He can hit breaking pitches and projects to have plus power.

”The way he can go oppo with damage is super impressive for his young age,” Cubs manager Lance Rymel said, “and he has a great baseball mind. He loves the game. No one will work harder.”

Caissie is an average runner with an average arm, projecting to be able to handle either corner outfield position.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Owen Caissie, OF, Cubs109203871620263912.349.478.596

4. Kevin Alcantara, OF, Cubs
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-6. Wt: 188. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018 (Yankees).

Alcantara began the season in the Florida Complex League as a member of the Yankees organization but joined the Cubs at the trade deadline when Chicago traded Anthony Rizzo to New York. The lean, lanky Alcantara joined the Cubs and quickly posted an outstanding 1.024 OPS in 34 games.

Alcantara projects to be a total package of tools and performance, with the ceiling of an all-star-caliber center fielder. His swing is balanced and works well despite his long limbs, and he should add more power to what already grades as plus when he fills out his frame. With instincts and confidence in the field Alcantara could become a plus defender with a plus arm, giving him a good chance to stay in the middle of the outfield.

“He’s young and he’s got to keep learning and playing the game,” said Cubs manager Lance Rymel. “You see the tools that he has, and everything will iron itself out when he starts playing more.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Kevin Alcantara, OF, Cubs92273135421132830.337.415.609

5. Pedro Piñeda, OF, Athletics
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2021

Piñeda signed with the Athletics in January and soon impressed on the backfields in the spring. After making his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, he made it back to Arizona in late July.

Playing most of the season as a 17-year-old, Piñeda showcased his impressive set of tools and instincts for the game. He has a good approach at the plate to go with plenty of bat speed and an ability to hit to all fields, but he needs to improve his pitch selection and plate discipline. Piñeda has plus raw power now and should get stronger with maturity, and he’s a plus runner. He is still raw in the outfield, getting by now with athleticism over instincts.

“There’s no ceiling on how good this kid can be,” Athletics manager Adam Rosales said. “His attitude is fantastic, and his work ethic is on point . . . He’s always hungry to get better.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Pedro Piñeda, OF, Athletics6215162218132833.258.403.403

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2021 Cincinnati Reds Instructional League Roster

Elly De La Cruz headlines an exciting group for the Reds.

6. James Triantos, SS/2B, Cubs
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 195. Drafted: HS—Vienna, Va., 2021 (2nd round).

The Cubs selected Triantos in the second round and went over slot to sign him for $2.1 million. The Virginia high school product looked overmatched in his first couple of ACL games but quickly adjusted to the speed of the game, showing off his plus bat with a strong swing capable of driving balls to all fields with average to above-average power. Triantos saved the best for last, posting a 1.199 OPS in September with a two-homer game in the season finale.

Scouts observed that defensively the game still got too fast for Triantos, questioning whether he will be better suited to second base or third base rather than shortstop, but he’s athletic enough to improve as his career progresses. He showed average speed in his first pro season. Triantos’ makeup is solid, and he projects as a prospect who will play above his tools as he progresses through the system.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
James Triantos, SS/2B, Cubs10127337161971833.327.376.594

7. Aeverson Arteaga, SS, Giants
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-1. Wt: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2019

The top prospect from the Giants’ 2019 international class, Arteaga skipped over the Dominican Summer League to make his pro debut in Arizona, leading the league in RBIs and finishing third in home runs. He can be an impact player on both sides of the ball, with more power in his stroke than expected, and he is a plus defender at shortstop with good hands, range and a solid internal clock.

Arteaga has bat-to-ball skills and showed the ability to make adjustments at the plate, with the expectation that he’ll become more selective and cut down on his chase rate. “The more at-bats that he gets, the better he gets,” said Giants manager Lance Burkhart, “trying to understand who he is as a hitter.”

In addition to being a plus defender, Arteaga has a plus arm and a natural ability to pick up the baseball. He’s a below-average runner out of the box due to a long finish to his swing but is average underway.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Aeverson Arteaga, SS, Giants1974258121943236980.294.367.503

8. Benny Montgomery, OF, Rockies
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-4. Wt: 200. Drafted: HS—Lewisberry, Pa., 2021 (1st round).

One of the toolsiest players in the 2021 draft, Montgomery was selected by the Rockies with the eighth overall pick and signed for $5 million. His brief appearances in the ACL left scouts unsure how to project him. He showed impressive raw power in batting practice but struggled to get to it in games with his swing. Montgomery has an athletic, coordinated swing with some feel to hit, but can get long and a bit off time, resulting in a high groundball rate.

The Rockies didn’t make any swing adjustments after Montgomery arrived in the ACL. He missed time with several nagging injuries, so his hitting development will continue in instructional league.

“We’re going to let him play,” Rockies manager Jake Opitz said. “It’s a huge power/speed combo, off the charts in both area . . . The best true power I’ve seen from an 18-year-old.”

Montgomery is a 70-grade runner with a plus arm who is still working on his jumps and reads in the outfield. He projects to be at least an above-average defender.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Benny Montgomery, OF, Rockies4771601065951.340.404.383

9. Harry Ford, C, Mariners
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt: 200. Drafted: HS—Kennesaw, Ga., 2021 (1st round).

The Mariners used the 12th overall pick this year to select Ford, the ultra-rare catcher who is a plus runner. With a strong body giving him plenty of bat speed, he uses a strong line-drive swing with the power to put the ball out of the park, and all three of his home runs came in his last five ACL games.

Ford sees the ball well and has a good idea of which pitches to take and which pitches to swing at. He still has work to do behind the plate to fine-tune his catching technique, but he has a strong arm and blocks well.

While his speed and athleticism would allow Ford to play other positions, his intangibles will help him remain behind the plate.

“As a catcher, you’re a leader. You’re the guy who the entire field can see,” Mariners manager Austin Knight said, “so him embracing how important that selfless mentality is has been good to see.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Harry Ford, C, Mariners5512167031091430.291.400.582

10. Jay Allen, OF, Reds
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht: 6-3. Wt: 190. Drafted: HS—Fort Pierce, Fla., 2021 (1st round)

The second of the Reds’ two first-round picks this year started his career with a special game. Allen stole third base after walking in his first pro plate appearance and then hit a tape measure home run in his next at-bat.

An elite athlete, Allen played three sports in high school. He’s an aggressive baserunner with plus speed who stole 14 bases in just 19 games in the ACL. Like most first-year pros, Allen struggled at times with breaking pitches but projects to be an above-average hitter with at least average power. An average defender now, he should be able to stay in center field and should progress in all areas now that his focus is baseball.

What stands out most about Allen is his outstanding makeup and ability to take instruction. “He’s trusting his coaching staff. He’s listening to what we feel needs to improve and really trying to master that,” Reds manager Bryan LaHair said, “like just his overall defensive play and the little intangibles of what we’re looking for . . . He’s listening, he’s learning, he’s adapting.”

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Jay Allen, OF, Reds6120313311812141.328.440.557

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