CINCINNATI -- In a short period of time with the Reds organization, infielder Elly De La Cruz went from relative obscurity to an elite and coveted prospect.
At only 19 and playing in the United States for the first time during the 2021 season, De La Cruz made a big impression.
“He’s a big tool guy with a big motor and high intelligent character,” Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender said. “He’s very projectable physically but he’s still growing. He’s still filling out. Great bat speed. Like [shortstop prospect Matt] McLain, he’s got a great motor. He loves to play, he’s a good teammate. He’s smart as hell with exciting, difference-making tools.”
Cincinnati’s international scouting department signed De La Cruz out of the Dominican Republic in 2018 for $65,000 but didn’t fully grasp his potential at the time. He spent his first pro season -- 2019 -- in the Dominican Summer League.
Now De La Cruz is viewed as a likely five-tool talent.
After moving up to Low-A Daytona, De La Cruz held his own well as he batted .269/.305/.477 with five homers, 12 doubles, seven triples and 29 RBIs in 50 games. He walked 10 times but struck 65 in 210 plate appearances.
Conservatively listed at 6-foot-2 and 150 pounds, De La Cruz will turn 20 on Jan. 11.
“I think he’s a five-tool guy,” Pender said. “We all know some of those recede a little bit as you age. But he can really run, can really throw, can hit, can hit for power and his defense. Because he’s so athletic -- he’s got a chance to have five above-average tools.”
Pender’s evaluation is echoed by those in other organizations.
"He has above-average bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat,” one Major League scouting executive said. “There's projection on his body. He has good actions defensively with solid hands and plenty of arm."
De La Cruz is a natural shortstop and played 23 games at that position last season but also demonstrated he can move around. He played more games -- 35 -- at third base.
Besides De La Cruz and McLain (No. 3 prospect), the Reds also have shortstop prospects in Ivan Johnson (No. 16) and José Torres (No. 22). De La Cruz and Torres could begin 2022 in High-A Dayton.
The Reds aren’t worried about having too many potential shortstops.
“What’s most interesting about these guys -- for me at least -- all of them have a chance to be offensive,” Pender said. “When you’re offensive, you can certainly move to other positions and play third or play second or go to the outfield. Almost all of those guys have tool sets that would fit.
“You figure it out or someone has interest in them and you make a trade because you have multiple premier position guys. That’s a good problem to have.”