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Prospects who used Rookie ball as a springboard

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Another Opening Day arrived Monday, and this is the last one for a while in pro ball.

The Arizona Complex, Florida Complex and Dominican Summer Leagues all opened their doors for business in 2023, providing us with more opportunities to follow and analyze some of the game’s absolute youngest prospects. We’ll have a preview of each farm system’s top prospects heading to short-season ball later this week. For now, let’s look at recent history and focus on five Top 100 prospects who used those three circuits as springboards toward potential greatness:

Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds (No. 1, MLB No. 4): Before Elly went by a single name, he was just a $65,000 signing out of the Dominican Republic in July 2018. His DSL performance the following year didn’t immediately put him on the radar, but his 2021 ACL numbers certainly did. After the missed pandemic season, De La Cruz lasted only 11 games in the Arizona Complex League before proving he needed a new challenge after going 20-for-50 (.400) with 11 extra-base hits in 11 games. The then-19-year-old joined Single-A Daytona after that and became a Top 100 prospect for good the following offseason.

Now, he’s joining the MLB club for his big league debut.

James Wood, OF, Nationals (No. 1, MLB No. 7): San Diego certainly hoped it got a steal in the second round when it selected Wood 62nd overall in 2021, and the outfielder’s $2.6 million bonus represented the organization’s high hopes. But there’s no doubt he pushed his stock higher by taking off as he did in the ACL soon after signing. Wood hit .372/.465/.535 with three homers and 10 steals in 26 games that summer, and although a ridiculous .569 BABIP contributed to that, it’s worth noting that Wood has been a high-BABIP player in the Minors because of his ability to hit the ball hard and show good speed from his 6-foot-6 frame. He developed into one of the biggest pieces in the *Juan Soto return in 2022 and could be in the discussion to be a No. 1 overall prospect soon, having recently reached Double-A in his second full season.

Marco Luciano, SS, Giants (No. 2, MLB No. 18): San Francisco skipped Luciano, who signed for $2.6 million, over the DSL completely because they believed his bat was ready for a stateside challenge, and the 17-year-old rewarded that confidence quickly. Luciano finished fourth in the then-AZL with 10 home runs and also placed among the circuit’s top five in OBP (.438), slugging (.616), OPS (1.055) and runs scored (46) over 38 games before getting a bump to Class A Short Season Salem-Kizer. He accomplished all of that while being one of only 10 qualified age-17 players in the complex-level league; none of the other nine had an OPS higher than .899.

Junior Caminero, 3B/2B, Rays (No. 5, MLB No. 57): The right-handed slugger certainly got noticed by the Rays in 2021 after he hit .295/.380/.534 with nine homers in 43 games as a 17-year-old infielder in the DSL while in the Guardians system. Since 2010, he is one of only 14 DSL qualified hitters to strike out less than 17 percent of the time, walk more than 11 percent of the time and slug at least .525. Other notables on that list: *Malcom Nuñez, Adrian Pinto and some Mariners outfielder named Julio Rodríguez. Tampa Bay picked up Caminero in a deal for Tobias Myers that offseason and has helped develop him into one of the best hitters in the Minors, one who has just reached Double-A at just 19 years old.

Edgar Quero, C, Angels (No. 2, MLB No. 88): The switch-hitter has gone from $200,000 signing out of Cuba to Top 100 prospect rather quickly, and the signs of his future breakout were on display early when he moved to the ACL as an 18-year-old in 2021, namely his elite plate discipline. Among the 140 batters with at least 100 plate appearances that season, Quero ranked second with a 19.8 percent walk rate, and he finished with a .440 OBP, .945 OPS and 151 wRC+ over 29 games in his Minor League debut campaign. Quero still hasn’t waked less than 11.9 percent of the time with a Halos affiliate, and he enters this week with a .405 OBP as a 20-year-old at Double-A, where he’s again facing an advanced assignment.

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