Every once in a while, something happens in baseball that makes you feel, well, giddy. The Reds’ roster announcement on early Tuesday afternoon was one of those times.
Happy Elly De La Cruz day, everybody!
Whether you’re in Cincinnati or elsewhere, if you’re not excited about the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball bringing his electric tools to the big leagues, I question your fandom.
To be direct, there’s nothing De La Cruz can’t do on a baseball field. He’s routinely broken Statcast in Triple-A this year, on both sides of the ball, putting up ridiculous exit velocities on such a regular basis seeing 116 mph off his bat has become routine while cranking throws up near triple digits as well. He’s recorded elite-level run times, out of the box, and home-to-third.
He’s not just a highlight reel, he’s a consistent performer. He’s somehow raised the bar from his 2022 campaign that saw him go 20-40 with a .945 OPS across High-A and Double-A, answering some questions about his approach at the plate. The strikeouts are down and the walks are up, leading to an OPS north of 1.000. Oh, and he’s only 21, the age of a college junior readying himself for this year’s Draft.
Remember, he got off to a delayed start, not playing until April 20 because of a left hamstring strain. His handful of games in April were just a warm-up, a brushing off of the rust. He then hit .347/.460/.743 in 25 May games with 10 homers and nine steals. His K rate during that time span was just 20.6 percent and he walked at a 16.9 percent clip. Raising the bar again, until it was clear the Reds needed to make room for him in the big league lineup and see what those shiny tools look like at the highest level.
And that’s the big question, isn’t it? We write some kind of “what to expect” piece any time a Top 100 prospect gets called up and it is extremely hard not to get caught up in the hoopla when someone like De La Cruz arrives on the scene (not that we’ve had too many De La Cruzes come our way). Who doesn’t want to see him take the National League by storm, put up his huge numbers and run away with National League Rookie of the Year honors? And listen, that could very well come to pass, but let’s try to look at things through a more realistic lens.
I don’t think anyone questions whether De La Cruz’s speed and power will play with the Reds. His 70 grade speed (on the 20-to-80 scale) that enabled him to swipe 47 bases in 53 tries in 2022 will be an asset no matter what else happens, the kind of tool that helps a player contribute even if he’s not swinging the bat well. And while he’s a less extraordinary 11-for-17 in steal attempts this year, matching his caught stealing total for all of 2022, it should be noted he’s 9 for his last 11. He’s going to steal some bases as well as stretch singles to doubles and doubles to triples.
The power is plus and it’s going to show up, even against big league pitching. The switch-hitter has shown an ability to drive the ball from both sides of the plate. Even though his pop is more obvious from the left side, he was still slugging over .600 as a right-handed hitter. His elite bat speed has combined well with his continued added strength to his 6-foot-5 frame and even some of his mistake swings turn into home runs. We might look back and see that his 60 power grade was light.
How much his power-speed combination shows up is tied to the parts of his offensive game that were a little bit in question: his approach and his hit tool. His 2022 season was extraordinary, but it came with a strikeout rate over 30 percent and a pedestrian walk rate (7.8 percent). It’s clear De La Cruz set out to correct those “flaws” this year and while it’s a smaller sample size, the improvements on the plate discipline and swing and miss do give more confidence he’ll hit enough to get to the power and get on base enough to use the speed.
Don’t be shocked if there’s a little regression there. Hitting in the big leagues is hard, right? De La Cruz might expand the zone, try to do too much for a bit and big league pitchers can and will exploit that. Oneil Cruz, the Pirates shortstop De La Cruz most often is compared to, did some exciting things during his rookie season in 2022, himself a Statcast darling, but he also finished with a .233/.294/.450 line that came along with a 35 percent K rate and a walk rate under eight percent.
Ok, the cautionary tale part is over and here’s the thing. De La Cruz has a chance to be better than Cruz, and that’s saying something, because I’m still very bullish on what Cruz will do once healthy. But the Reds infielder (I didn’t even get into where he’ll play defensively because, let’s face it, who cares, as long as he’s in the lineup? Seriously, he can play both spots on the left side of the infield just fine.) has been more consistent in his production, at a younger age, than Cruz was in the Minors.
So if you want to throw caution out the window, I’m not going to stand in your way. There’s more than enough room for everyone on the Elly De La Cruz bandwagon.