Inbox: Just how good is Elly De La Cruz?

July 8th, 2022

While we are finally less than two weeks away from the start of the 2022 Draft, the combination of the announcement of Futures Game rosters (and you can read up on every player on the roster right here) and our update of the Top 100 Prospects list has me wanting to focus on the pro prospects for this week’s Inbox. Don’t worry, we have plenty of Draft content to come, but here’s a quartet of queries about Minor Leaguers.

Just how GOOD is Elly De La Cruz? -- @rfletcher247

Really, really good. How’s that for a precise answer?

The Reds infielder is now at No. 50 on our Top 100, and he jumped up 11 spots in our update. Might we have been light on moving him up? It’s quite possible, and he made that clear by celebrating his Futures Game invite with three homers in a doubleheader on Thursday. He now has an OPS of .954 with 18 homers and 26 steals while playing in the High-A Midwest League at age 20.

A couple of reasons why we might have hedged our bets just a little. One is a lack of track record: He just made his United States debut last year and had fewer than 200 at-bats above rookie ball headed into this year. The other is the swing-and-miss in his game. Yes, folks don’t care quite as much about strikeouts anymore, but his 31.3 percent K rate made us pause ever so slightly. That is trending in a better direction lately and his tools are so loud, I have a feeling it won’t matter and he’ll keep moving up towards the top of our list.

How far do you change someone’s rankings for an injury or bad performance? Like an injury with Grayson Rodriguez, or a dip like Anthony Volpe? Versus the guys who are rising? -- @DynastyLearn

Jim Callis and Sam Dykstra covered this one on this week’s edition of the MLB Pipeline Podcast, so be sure to give that a listen for a fuller response. In a nutshell, injuries depend on the severity, if they are short-term vs. long-term. Performance decisions might be based on whether there are underlying factors to cause greater concern, if a player has a track record or if a player is coming out of a “dip,” as you put it.

I’d agree with all of that. Yes, it’s a shame Rodriguez is out for the year, and while you have to make sure a lat strain fully heals, it’s not arm-related. The Orioles are understandably erring on the side of caution with Rodriguez, and there’s no reason to think he won’t go back to being the best pitching prospect in baseball in 2023, until he reaches Baltimore.

Volpe fits into the “coming out of it” category. Yes, he started very slowly, but he hit .298/.360/.538 in June and has been white-hot in the early days of July with a 1.208 OPS in his first five games. The signs of him finding his groove in Double-A were evident, so we didn’t feel it necessary to knock him down when we updated the list. He only moved down three spots because of our desire to move up Corbin Carroll (nine spots to No. 3), Gunnar Henderson (36 spots to No. 5) and Jordan Walker (16 spots to No. 7). It’s certainly not an exact science, but we try to find a balance so we don’t overreact to good or poor performance over a couple of months, but rather try to see if it’s part of a trend in either direction.

Out of the new top 5 who is best positioned to be the next No. 1? -- @jmcdearmont01

The easy answer, of course, is Francisco Álvarez, currently at No. 2. We did have some internal discussion about making him the top prospect now, but weren’t quite there. But Riley Greene will graduate this summer and Álvarez will ascend to the top spot. And he’ll deserve it, as a 20-year old who is already in Triple-A and has ridiculous offensive upside, especially power-wise, while also playing a premium position.

We will do a full-on re-rank later in the summer, one that incorporates the 2022 Draft class and looks at all of the Top 30 lists and not just the Top 100, so we’ll take a closer look at the top of the list then. Truthfully, though, I don’t see any of the other top five prospects leapfrogging over Álvarez. If I were to pick one, it might be Gunnar Henderson, if he’s going off in Triple-A and Álvarez struggles … though again, we don’t want to put too much into a small sample of performance. But Henderson’s upside, athleticism, ability to play a premium position, all could work in his favor.

Why are scouts and writers so low on Noelvi Marte? It seems like every reports makes him seem like a flawed prospect yet he’s showing that’s far from the truth. -- @seattlemsnation

Noelvi Marte (Mariners) His numbers are down across the board. Do you have an explanation for this? Is he overrated? -- @Ms4Life_

Getting two questions like this is a great reminder of how much fun, and how imperfect, all this prospect reporting can be. Marte is under-appreciated! Marte is overrated!

The truth is probably somewhere in between, as it always is, right? Yes, we knocked Marte down 13 spots, and he’s now at No. 20, but count me as someone who is still very bullish on the shortstop. He is just 20 and in High-A and like De La Cruz discussed above, is much younger than the average hitter at his level. The raw power is still impressive, and even with his struggles, he has 23 extra-base hits.

There have been some concerns with his approach at the plate and the consistency between at-bats and games, the kinds of things really young players at times have to be forced to learn as they face adversity. He faced some, especially in May and June (He hit just .218 last month.), but there are some early signs of him coming out of it this month. In his first six July games, Marte has a 1.131 OPS. It’s not enough of a sample to go too crazy over, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he keeps this going and we re-adjust accordingly. The bat is very real. There was another question about he and fellow M’s Top 100 prospect Edwin Arroyo coexisting that I didn’t list here. But how about a left side of the infield with Arroyo at short and Marte at third?