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2021 Low-A Southeast Top 10 Prospects

Anthony Volpe Mikejanesfourseam (2)
Anthony Volpe (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)

The last time the Low-A Southeast League took the field, it was called the Florida State League. And it was High-A. And it had 12 teams. And balls and strikes were called exclusively by humans.

All of that changed in 2021, a year after the pandemic wiped out the season and MLB realigned the minor leagues. Low-A Southeast lost two teams to contraction and served this season as a testing ground for the automated ball-strike system, which went through tweaks as the season went along.

The lost 2020 season created a bit of a logjam, and the league was full of a variety of players of varying experience levels. Collegians from high-pedigree schools were mixed in some cases with teenagers who hadn’t played a day of pro ball.

A number of players stood head and shoulders above the rest. In the early going, that group included Tampa shortstop Anthony Volpe and Palm Beach third baseman Jordan Walker, first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Dunedin shortstop Orelvis Martinez mashed in the middle months, and Daytona shortstop Elly De La Cruz took the league by storm as soon as he arrived in mid July.

Jupiter righthander Eury Perez, the youngest player in full-season ball, carved through the league with the poise of a much more experienced pitcher before moving to High-A, where he continued to open eyes.

1. Anthony Volpe, SS, Tampa (Yankees)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 5-11. WT: 180. Drafted: HS—Morristown, N.J., 2019 (1st round).

Volpe’s 2019 season—muted by a bout of mononucleosis—left plenty of questions about what the Yankees had in their first-round pick. After using the lost 2020 season to gain strength, Volpe put together one of the finest seasons in the minors.

Volpe shined brightly at the plate, where he used an mature approach to work his way into advantageous counts and force pitchers to give him pitches to drive.

Scouts and opposing managers rave about Volpe’s combination of hitting ability and power, which helped him become the only player in the minor leagues with more than 25 home runs and more than 30 stolen bases.

There are questions about whether Volpe will stick at shortstop, mostly because his arm strength might be better suited at second base. The same exceptional makeup he showed working remotely in 2020 could help keep him at shortstop.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Anthony Volpe, SS, Tampa (Yankees)199566018512495143215.302.455.623

2. Jordan Walker, 3B, Palm Beach (Cardinals)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 220. Drafted: HS—Decatur, Ga., 2020 (1st round)

Walker was undoubtedly an excellent draft prospect, but his early success caught evaluators off guard because of the sheer violence he inflicted on baseballs. He left the league with average and maximum exit velocities of 93.2 and 116.2 mph, with the latter being the hardest-hit ball all year on the circuit.

“It’s stupid power,” one league manager said. “For a 19-year-old kid, the man strength he has is rare.”

Evaluators were also impressed with the way Walker quickly adjusted at the plate. Specifically, if he got beat by a pitch in one at-bat, he wasn’t likely to let the same pitch beat him a second time.

While Walker’s offensive potential is unquestioned, some doubt he will stick at third base. He’s already a big-bodied player and is still growing, and league managers noted that his footwork and reaction time will have to improve to stay at the hot corner. Even if he has to move, his bat will profile in another corner.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Jordan Walker, 3B, Palm Beach (Cardinals)992437111621182110.374.475.687

3. Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B, Dunedin (Blue Jays)
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 188. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.

Martinez entered the year as one of the best prospects in Toronto’s system and spent the early part of the season in Low-A showing exactly why. He was particularly potent in July, when he hit .313/.420/.798 with 13 home runs in 26 games. He was promoted to High-A in early August.

The 19-year-old generates his power thanks to a strong frame and electric bat speed. Both of those elements combined to produce average and maximum exit velocities of 88.5 and 110.8 mph, respectively. His 28 total home runs were the most by any teenager in the minor leagues this season.

Martinez has improved his first-step quickness, moves well and has a strong throwing arm, but he’s still likely to move to third base if he continues to get bigger as he matures.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B, Dunedin (Blue Jays)28349792221968338541.279.369.572

4. Mick Abel, RHP, Clearwater (Phillies)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-4. WT: 190. Drafted: HS—Portland, Ore., 2020 (1st round).

The Phillies’ 2020 first-rounder was a classic case of a pitcher whose numbers didn’t match the stuff. Though Abel’s 4.43 ERA was higher than expected, and his control and command were spotty, scouts were effusive in their praise.

In Abel, scouts see the potential for a true No. 1 starter who shows a full complement of four pitches that each have the potential to be plus. His fastball sat in the mid 90s and regularly touched the 98-99 mph range. His slider and curveball, each thrown in the low 80s, generated swings and misses, and his high-80s changeup showed excellent fading action.

The biggest problems at this point are his command and control, as well as a shoulder injury which cost him the last two months of the season.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Mick Abel, RHP, Clearwater (Phillies)134.43141404527232252766.174

5. Eury Perez, RHP, Jupiter (Marlins)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-8. WT: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2019.

Perez was the youngest player in the minor leagues on Opening Day, but he spent the season pitching with the poise of a veteran. His combination of stuff, athleticism and youth opened evaluators’ eyes and established Perez as the latest in the Marlins’ stockpile of high-end arms.

Combined with a late-season promotion to High-A, Perez whiffed 108 hitters in 78 innings, the most by any 18-year-old pitcher this season. He comes by his strikeouts with a three-pitch arsenal that starts with a mid-90s fastball and a potentially plus changeup as his two best weapons. His slider has a chance to get to above-average or better, but it needs the most work at this point. Even more impressive, Perez showed the athleticism to control his long levers and pound the strike zone with his arsenal.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Eury Perez, RHP, Jupiter (Marlins)231.61151505632141022182.163

cardinals-900x635

Jordan Walker: Cardinals 2021 Minor League Player Of The Year

The 2020 first-rounder's easy power could put him in select company among the organization's recent hitting prospects.

6. Elly De La Cruz, 3B/SS, Daytona (Reds)
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. HT: 6-5. WT: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018.

Nearly as soon as he debuted in the Arizona Complex League, de la Cruz became the talk of the minor leagues. His frame, tool set and knack for making consistent, loud contact, made him one of the quickest-rising prospects in the game.

De la Cruz quickly moved to Low-A, where he continued wowing scouts and managers alike. His maximum exit velocity of 112.2 mph was among the best in the league, and his average of 89.3 mph wasn’t far off, either. In addition to his power, de la Cruz also impressed evaluators with his speed, which showed up more in how quickly he went from first to third than on stolen base tries, on which he went 10-for-15.

De la Cruz needs to polish his command of the strike zone, but managers noticed confidence, a high baseball IQ and smoothness to his game that belied his age and inexperience.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Elly de la Cruz, 3B/SS, Daytona (Reds)1972253127529106585.269.305.477

7. Jasson Dominguez, OF, Tampa (Yankees)
Age: 18. B-T: B-R. HT: 5-10. WT: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2019.

The No. 1 international prospect signed in 2019, Dominguez held his own in his long-awaited pro debut, spent mostly at Low-A. He even earned a spot in the Futures Game.

Those impressed with Dominguez cited the fluidity to his movements and the impact he made when he made contact. He posted an average and maximum exit velocities of 85.8 and 111.7 mph. He also showed a strong work ethic, as well as an even keel during the ups and downs of the season.

Evaluators showed concern about how thick and stocky his body has become, leading to questions whether he can stick in center field. He still shows enough speed to play there but needs to continue to add polish to his jumps and routes. His above-average arm would fit in right field.

More than anything, the 2021 season finally provided Dominguez the reps he needed to begin kicking off the rust he’d accumulated during the gap between signing and making his debut.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Jasson Dominguez, OF, Tampa (Yankees)186264891518216773.258.346.477

8. Jared Jones, RHP, Bradenton (Pirates)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-1. WT: 180. Drafted: HS—La Mirada, Calif., 2020 (2nd round).

Jones ranked as the fifth-best high school righthander in the 2020 draft. He lived up to the hype in his pro debut, ranking fifth in the league with 103 strikeouts.

Jones’ arsenal starts with a fastball that sat in the mid 90s and frequently touched the high 90s. Jones backs his fastball with a pair of breaking balls with plus potential. He has better command of his slider but his curveball gets more swings and misses. Jones throws his changeup with conviction to both sides of the plate and it has average potential.

Jones’ command and control must improve—he walked nearly five hitters per nine innings—but his pure stuff is outstanding.

Pitcher, Pos, Team (Org)WLERAGGSSVIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
Jared Jones, RHP, Bradenton (Pirates)364.641815066634434634103.245

9. Endy Rodriguez, C/1B, Bradenton (Pirates)
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. HT: 6-0. WT: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2018 (Mets).

The Pirates acquired Rodriguez from the Mets as part of the three-team deal that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres and Joey Lucchesi to New York. Now, he’s part of the deep and rapidly improving Pittsburgh farm system.

Rodriguez’s .294 average led the league, his on-base and slugging percentages each ranked among the top five, and his 15 home runs were just four off of Orelvis Martinez’s league lead. Those highest on Rodriguez see a potentially plus hitter with plus raw power who has a ceiling as an everyday catcher.

On the defensive side, scouts see a solid receiver who can handle big velocity and plays with a tremendous amount of energy. There are some areas to polish in terms of the way he presents pitches, and he threw out just 17% of basestealers.

If Rodriguez did have to move out from behind the plate, especially after the Pirates drafted Louisville catcher Henry Davis No. 1 overall this year, he has the athleticism to play first base or left field, and he dabbled at both spots in 2021.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Endy Rodriguez, C/1B, Bradenton (Pirates)377731112561573507720.294.380.512

10. Alex Ramirez, OF, St. Lucie (Mets)
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. HT: 6-3. WT: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2019.

Ramirez was the jewel of the Mets’ 2019 international signing class, then had his debut season scuttled by the coronavirus pandemic. He impressed the Mets at extended spring training and forced his way onto the St. Lucie roster, where he held his own as one of Low-A Southeast’s youngest players.

Ramirez’s profile comes with plenty of risk, but also plenty of upside. His .258 average was fourth highest in the pitcher-friendly league, and he has the bat speed and barrel control to hit for both average and power if he can rein in his chase rate. He struck out 31% of the time, though he made more contact as the season progressed and he got used to the automated strike zone.

Ramirez is an above-average runner and an excellent athlete, so he has a chance to stick in center field. If he has to move to a corner, his plus arm would play in right field. Ramirez is a boom or bust prospect who made good progress in 2021.

Player, Pos, Team (Org)ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
Alex Ramirez, OF, St. Lucie (Mets)302417815453523104167.258.326.384

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