The Road to The Show™: Reds' De La Cruz
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at Reds No. 2 prospect Elly De La Cruz. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here. Baseball has seen its fair share
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at Reds No. 2 prospect Elly De La Cruz. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.
Baseball has seen its fair share of young phenoms in recent years, but Elly De La Cruz has still managed to do what few have done before him.
Just last week, as he entered his Futures Game appearance and the All-Star break, MLB Pipeline’s No. 49 overall prospect catapulted himself into rarified air. The 20-year-old switch hitter homered from both sides of the plate for Dayton as part of a three-homer day in a doubleheader against West Michigan. It was a feat that hadn't been accomplished by someone his age at the High-A level. So, naturally, De La Cruz did it again two nights later.
“That felt very, very good,” De La Cruz told MLB.com through an interpreter. “It’s the best feeling ever to hit a home run from both sides. It’s an emotion that’s hard to explain. But it’s a good emotion.”
The second-ranked Reds prospect came into the break as one of only two Minor Leaguers aged 20 or younger with at least 20 homers. The other prospect on that list, the Guardians’ Jhonkensy Noel, recorded the putout in left field for De La Cruz’s only at-bat in the Futures Game. Through the first 73 games of the season, De La Cruz is batting .302 with a .968 OPS, 14 doubles, 52 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.
While last year, his first season stateside, would probably count as De La Cruz’s breakout campaign, his first-half performance in 2022 confirmed that he’s one of the best prospects in the Minors. Which projects a sense that the Reds found a true diamond in the rough, considering how his professional career began.
The work toward a pro contract began for De La Cruz when he was six years old. The youngest of nine children, he left home to live with his coaches and pursue a life in baseball. By the time he was eligible to sign in 2018, there had been little to separate him from the pack in the Dominican Republic. As his window was closing, he received an invitation to work out in front of scouts in Santo Domingo.
“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 told MLB.com. “The next day, they came back and said, ‘We want to sign you.’”
The Reds were one of eight teams during the 2018 international signing period that could not spend more than $300,000 on a single player, which was a penalty for exceeding their cap two years prior. So, despite having the largest bonus pool that season, most of the biggest names were off-limits. The club would have to take fliers on guys like De La Cruz, who signed his first offer for $65,000.
De La Cruz played in the unofficial Tricky League in the Dominican after signing and joined the Reds' DSL squad the following year. His first professional season came before his career-changing growth spurt, but he still held his own in Rookie ball. His .285 average kept him in the conversation, but a .382 slugging percentage illustrated a glaring lack of some sort of "wow" factor in an otherwise toolsy shortstop.
When the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, De La Cruz used the time to get stronger and pack muscle onto a frame that had grown three inches since he signed.
The Reds brought De La Cruz stateside for the start of the 2021 season. After years of struggling to stand out from the pack, the 6-foot-5 De La Cruz was a man among boys in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League. In 11 games, he batted .400 with a 1.235 OPS and collected more extra-base hits than singles, including three homers. He was quickly promoted to Single-A Daytona, and on Wednesday, MLB.com reported that he was headed up to Double-A Chattanooga on Friday.
“He’s a fast-track guy,” Reds outfield legend and special assistant to the general manager for player performance Eric Davis told MLB.com this spring. “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.”
De La Cruz went from off the board to No. 10 on the Reds’ top prospects list by the end of 2021. He finished the season with the Tortugas batting .269/.305/.477 with five homers and 29 RBIs.
“I always knew I was good, but last year I saw the progression,” De La Cruz told MLB.com. “That’s when I noticed I was moving in the right direction, that was the turning point.”
It was a breakout year, but he showed that there’s still a lot to iron out. He struck out in 31 percent of his plate appearances with Daytona and posted just a 4.8 percent walk rate. He’s been a little more selective in the first half with the Dragons this year, drawing free passes in 7.8 percent of his trips to the plate, but he still has some chase issues and is striking out in more than 30 percent of his appearances.
Defensively, scouts are enamored with his tools and believe that there’s a real ability to stick at shortstop. He played some second base in the DSL and has gotten some time at third this season and last year. But De La Cruz prefers to play shortstop, where he’s gotten the bulk of his innings. With his frame and long levers at the position, he drew comparisons to Pirates phenom Oneil Cruz during the All-Star festivities this weekend.
“He’s a big tool guy with a big motor and high intelligent character,” Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender told MLB.com. “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.”
De La Cruz is making a lot of noise on the climb up the ladder and could push for another promotion to Double-A Chattanooga and finish the season against more advanced competition. The lanky kid from Sabana Grande de Boya has matured into a potential superstar after an adolescence defined by a difficulty to stand out.
What he’s already accomplished is an ability to perform without the threat of it being his last chance. There’s a lot more runway afforded to a Top 100 prospect, and De La Cruz can find himself at the top of that list before long.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.