Reds call up electric infield prospect Elly De La Cruz

June 7th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Shortstop is one of the most hotly anticipated prospects in all of baseball, and Reds fans' wait to see him play in the big leagues is now over.

De La Cruz has arrived.

Cincinnati's No. 1 prospect and the No. 4 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, the 21-year-old De La Cruz was called up Tuesday from Triple-A Louisville, penciled in to start at third base and bat cleanup for his debut against the Dodgers at Great American Ball Park. Following a loud standing ovation in the first inning before he walked and scored a run against Tony Gonsolin, De La Cruz scorched a one-out double to the wall in right-center field in the third. According to Statcast, the exit velocity of the rip was 112 mph.

"You know, I knew this day was going to come," De La Cruz said via translator Jorge Merlos before the game. "It didn't mean that I was going to be worried about it or anything like that. I was just enjoying my moment out there, playing out there like it was my last day, just enjoying the moment while I was in Louisville."

The switch-hitting De La Cruz batted .297/.398/.633 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 38 games at Louisville this year. His season began on April 20 after he spent time on the injured list with a left hamstring strain suffered during his first big league camp at Spring Training.

Reds manager David Bell had no hesitation about batting De La Cruz in the fourth spot in his lineup right away.

“We know what kind of player Elly is. He’s swinging the bat well and we think it’s a fit," Bell said. "Obviously, there’s comfort in Elly’s ability. We believe he’s ready."

Since his return from the injury, De La Cruz has routinely been a highlight marvel for Louisville with his five-tool talent. He has connected for the hardest-hit ball in all of professional baseball this year, with an exit velocity of 118.8 mph recorded by Statcast. Overall in that same game, he hit three balls over 116 mph.

On June 4, De La Cruz ripped a double at 117.3 mph.

In early May, De La Cruz was playing third base for Louisville when he uncorked a 99.2 mph throw to first base – the hardest recorded throw at the time in Triple-A or the Major Leagues. 

On June 2, De La Cruz's 10.97-second sprint from home plate to third base tied him for the quickest trip from home to third tracked at the Major League level in 2023.

One big in-season improvement made by De La Cruz was plate discipline. In the last month, he's cut down on his strikeouts and has had a near equal walk-to-strikeout ratio.

"It's always been the plate discipline and making sure I swing at pitches that are mine and lay off the pitches that I'm not supposed to strike out at," he said. "For me, it's been the decision-making I do at home plate."

De La Cruz became the first Reds player to bat cleanup in his MLB debut since Frankie Kelleher in 1942. He's also the youngest Major Leaguer to debut at cleanup since Andres Mora (20 years, 324 days) did so for the Orioles in 1976.

De La Cruz will likely play mostly shortstop and third base for the Reds. Another prospect, De La Cruz's former Louisville teammate Matt McLain, has been playing shortstop for Cincinnati since his own May 15 promotion. McLain often played second base at Louisville when De La Cruz was at shortstop.

If the Reds operate in a similar fashion, they could potentially move second baseman Jonathan India to third base, first base or designated hitter. India has recently been taking ground balls at third. Spencer Steer, normally a first baseman and third baseman, started in left field for the first time vs. the Dodgers on Tuesday, with India at second and McLain at shortstop.

"It'll be day to day. It's not a particular rotation," Bell said. "I think one benefit of being in this situation is it's going to keep a lot of our options open."

At spring camp, De La Cruz was already issued No. 44, which previously belonged to Reds great and prospect mentor Eric Davis.

There has not been this much hype for a Reds position player prospect since outfielder Jay Bruce arrived on May 27, 2008. Bruce, then 21 like De La Cruz, was ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect at the time of his promotion. He burst onto the scene his first week by hitting .577 with three homers over his first seven Major League games.

Now De La Cruz will get to test his abilities at baseball's highest level, and his games are expected to be appointment viewing in Cincinnati -- and beyond.

"Honestly, I'm just really excited to be here right now," De La Cruz said. "I'm ready to help out this team."