'Electric' Elly aiming to light up Cincinnati
CINCINNATI -- When asked at this year's Redsfest to describe his style of playing, top Reds prospect Elly De La Cruz didn’t struggle for a reply.
“Electric,” De La Cruz said via translator Jorge Merlos.
Coming off Cincinnati’s 62-100 season in 2022, Reds fans would love nothing more than to see De La Cruz’s brand of electricity in the 2023 Opening Day lineup. However, the soon-to-be-21-year-old has only logged 47 games and 207 plate appearances above the Class A level in the Minor Leagues as he prepares for his first big league Spring Training.
That likely makes the odds for him to make the team out of camp slim, but that isn’t going to deter the 6-foot-5 shortstop, who is ranked No. 1 in the organization and No. 14 overall by MLB Pipeline.
“It's a great opportunity,” De La Cruz said. “You have to take full advantage of everything, so you've just got to put all your worth into it and all your everything you've done these past couple of months and years of training to hopefully at least stay up there as long as possible. That's what I'm going to try to do this Spring Training, take this opportunity.”
A five-tool talent, De La Cruz batted .304 with a .945 OPS, 28 homers and 47 stolen bases over 120 games for High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga in 2022, but he also struck out 158 times against 40 walks.
The impressive overall numbers complement the superlatives De La Cruz has drawn from talent evaluators, who praise his intellect and instincts on the field and his overall enthusiasm about playing.
“The reports are about as good as they can be,” Reds manager David Bell said. “From the regular season, winter ball, whatever, there's a lot of excitement around Elly. Besides the talent and what kind of baseball player he is, he has such a confident way about him, and he has a presence because he just really believes in himself. He's really positive. The way he plays is very contagious, too, so it makes people around him better. That's just kind of a gift.”
“I think I've always had it in me. I've always had a love for this game, and it's what keeps me going every day,” De La Cruz said. “I try to forget as much as possible what I've done the day before. It might have been a bad day, it might have been a good day, but I know that I'm going to get to play today.”
At winter ball in the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz batted .286 with an .813 OPS in 24 games for Licey. It was in that nation, in the town of Monte Plata, where he was signed as an unheralded player by the Reds for only $65,000 in 2018. He remained an unranked prospect until after he debuted on American soil in 2021.
“It's very emotional to play down there. You get to really see what it's like to play and control your emotions as well,” De La Cruz said of winter ball. “It's really cool to have my family and other people that know me see me play out there.”
De La Cruz would prefer to play shortstop, but he realizes the club has lots of depth at that position with fellow prospects Noelvi Marte and Matt McLain and incumbent Jose Barrero, among others, in the organization. In winter ball, he played third base and second base when he wasn’t at shortstop.
"I like third better. I don't like second,” De La Cruz said in English.
Center field could one day be an option, as it’s another spot where he’s had some experience.
“When I was a little kid. Not now,” he said, again in English. “I know how to play outfield.”
De La Cruz drew some of the louder cheers from fans at Redsfest, where he received the organization’s Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as its Minor League Player of the Year. As expected, the club protected him from the Rule 5 Draft by adding him to its 40-man roster in November.
“It's an important step, but it's not the final step,” De La Cruz said. “What we're trying to get to is the Major Leagues. We've still got to keep working hard, as hard as we can to get to where we need to be.”