Reds great on SS prospect De La Cruz: 'He's a fast-track guy'

February 18th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Reds shortstop prospect Elly De La Cruz grew up in the Dominican Republic, he initially didn’t generate the type of buzz that had scouts flocking to find him first. But De La Cruz found he was in the right place at the right time to get noticed.

“I was at the program where I practiced in the Dominican, and a scout from the Reds came out to see the other shortstop that was [there]. They saw me because I was playing, too,” De La Cruz explained on Friday through translator Becky Schnakenberg. “The next day, they came back and said, ‘We want to sign you.’”

De La Cruz, who grew up in Monte Plata, north of the capital city of Santo Domingo, was signed as a 16-year-old on July 2, 2018, by scout Richard Jimenez for $65,000 -- far below the large sums often given to shortstop prospects in his country.

Now 20, De La Cruz is definitely generating some buzz. He is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No. 8 prospect and is viewed as a five-tool talent.

“He’s got six, because he switch-hits,” Reds outfield great Eric Davis said, offering a correction. “He’s different. It’s a rarity when you see guys like that. Sometimes, you talk about six tools in a wishful comment. But his is legit. You just hope that injuries and those things don’t stop him, because his mindset and ability to want to compete is past a lot of kids his age.”

Davis, who is the Reds' special assistant to the general manager for player performance, is one of the instructors who has worked with De La Cruz in recent years. Conservatively listed at 6-foot-2 and 150 pounds, De La Cruz appears to have filled out while his hitting and fielding skills have improved with his growth.

“He’s electric,” Davis said. “His ability, his attitude, his willingness to learn, his willingness to compete. He has a very good idea of what he wants to accomplish as a player. That’s just something you don’t see much from a young kid.”

After he was signed, De La Cruz played in the Tricky League -- an informal league for teenagers before they are eligible for the Dominican Summer League. That’s when he realized that strength training would really be important for his career.

“I could barely hit the ball past the infield. I only had one home run,” he said.

As baseball was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, De La Cruz worked out at home and focused on getting stronger. The '21 season marked his first year of playing in the United States, and he knew that his hard work paid off.

“When I got here in extended [spring], I realized I was the best,” De La Cruz said.

During a two-plus-week stretch in the Arizona Complex League, De La Cruz batted .400 with a 1.235 OPS and three home runs in 11 games. After moving up to Low-A Daytona, he batted .269/.305/.477 with five homers, 12 doubles, seven triples and 29 RBIs in 50 games. He walked 10 times but had 65 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances.

De La Cruz was included among prospects invited to the Reds’ annual early camp for Minor Leaguers. He realizes it’s another chance to impress as he strives to move up.

“This camp is really helping me evolve,” De La Cruz said. “Mostly, I’ve learned how important all the exercises I am doing in the gym and strength and conditioning is for me and how that will help me avoid injuries.”

It remains to be seen if De La Cruz will open the 2022 season at Daytona or if he will move up to High-A Dayton, because the Reds have several shortstop prospects in their system. While he now has the size that would allow him to move to a position like third base -- where he played 35 games last year -- that’s not his preference.

“No, shortstop,” De La Cruz said in English.

Like Reds shortstop prospect Jose Barrero, who debuted in the Major Leagues in 2020 and will compete for a spot in '22, De La Cruz could advance quickly and put on a show that has people talking.

“He’s a fast-track guy,” Davis said. “The only thing about that is you have to be willing to allow him to do that. In development, you want to be cautious because you don’t want a kid to get overwhelmed. But you have to also understand, ‘What is your label of being overwhelmed?’ Is it the results or the ability of not being able to compete that overwhelms? For me, his ability to compete at any level will not overwhelm him. When you have guys who are that quick, you have to allow them to do what they do.

“Every level he goes to, he is going to compete. They will know who he is at every level he goes to.”