Elly De La Cruz Impresses in Cincinnati Debut

Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The prospect ranks are as excessive as an elephant’s eye at Castellini Farms. The Reds could have entered this rebuilding cycle with all of the grace of an offended cat attempting to get a cereal field off its head (versus the awkward toe-dipping of the final go-around), however by means of trades and their very own scouting, they’ve accrued a powerful quantity of expertise within the minors. By our in-progress farm system rankings, solely the Baltimore Orioles place greater for the 2023 season. Imply ol’ Grandpa ZiPS agrees; the Reds had seven prospects on the preseason ZiPS Prime 100, a complete that trailed solely the Guardians and the O’s. Baltimore and Cincinnati mixed appear to have about 80% of the shortstop prospects in baseball.

Whether or not you go by human or machine, no Pink ranked extra extremely this winter than Elly De La Cruz, who was no. 6 (60 FV) on the prospect crew’s Prime 100 and no. 15 on the ZiPS listing. After a powerful 2021 full-season debut, De La Cruz cranked issues up a notch in 2022, hitting 28 homers and slugging .586 mixed throughout Excessive- and Double-A regardless of solely being 20 years outdated. Questions nonetheless stay about his long-term defensive place, however his bat has proved to be much more potent for Triple-A Louisville, as he hit 12 house runs in a mere 38 video games and is already two-thirds of the best way to final yr’s stroll complete. He’s accountable for the Worldwide League’s ERA going up by almost half a run a recreation from 2022! OK, I made that final bit up, however you needed to truly give it some thought for a full second earlier than you smelled burning khaki.

In his huge league debut (batting cleanup!), De La Cruz had alternative to point out off his means to hit baseballs very, very laborious. Within the third inning, he crushed a excessive pitch from Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin as if he had been channelling Lori Petty, sending the Cat Man’s fastball screaming into the outfield at a spicy 112 mph, leading to a double for his first main league hit:

He put yet one more ball in play, a groundout to Miguel Vargas; the 109 mph worm-burner was hit laborious sufficient that the digicam work went proper from the crack of the bat to the ball in Vargas’ glove. And lest you suppose his debut was solely about uncooked energy, he drew two of the three walks Gonsolin allowed on Tuesday evening. Evan Phillips spoiled the enjoyable in a while, getting De La Cruz to strikeout wanting with a sweeper on the underside outdoors nook.

And sure, this was no extra a fluke than his minor league numbers have been. De La Cruz’s time with the Louisville Bats featured a median exit velocity of 93.4 mph and a 55% hard-hit proportion by StatCast’s reckoning. Now, there are nonetheless areas the place he can enhance offensively — for instance, his 69% contact charge in Triple-A was on the low facet — however one should keep in mind he’s nonetheless a 21-year-old participant who has rocketed by means of the minors, with little time to hold round and consolidate his features. He’s additionally taking part in as quick as marketed, and offers the Reds a great shot to have their first 30/30 participant since Brandon Phillips in 2007. The opposite two Reds in that exact membership are Barry Larkin and Eric Davis, who had been additionally fairly good as chances are you’ll recall. Particularly with the league’s stolen base increase, a 40-40 season isn’t not possible as an upside situation except he actually goes full Ellraiser.

As you may guess, the already sunny ZiPS projections for De La Cruz have gotten even sunnier after his extraordinarily profitable stint on the highest degree within the minors. ZiPS interprets his 2023 to date at .271/.340/.488, a pleasant little uptick from final yr’s .276/.314/.448 (the 2023 translations takes modifications in league offense within the minors under consideration):

ZiPS Projection – Elly De La Cruz (3B)

2024 .246 .310 .450 505 74 124 25 6 22 79 47 151 24 98 -1 2.0
2025 .252 .319 .468 523 81 132 26 6 25 85 51 148 24 105 -1 2.6
2026 .254 .324 .473 539 86 137 27 5 27 90 55 144 23 107 0 2.9
2027 .257 .329 .483 553 91 142 28 5 29 95 59 141 22 111 0 3.3
2028 .258 .332 .488 565 95 146 29 4 31 99 62 141 20 113 0 3.5
2029 .262 .337 .497 569 97 149 30 4 32 100 64 139 19 117 1 3.8

Repeating the methodology I used for the ZiPS Prime 100 Prospects getting into the season, this might transfer De La Cruz as much as third within the prospect rankings, behind Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson. These projections have Cruz at third, however his projections at quick at almost an identical WAR-wise, so both is an affordable risk from the projection POV.

With Matt McLain, a ZiPS favourite, having a torrid debut himself, Cincy has already made two de facto “acquisitions” which may be pretty much as good as any that one other crew within the NL Central makes this yr. And so they’re not the one ones. The Reds cleared the best way for Spencer Steer to get an prolonged shot within the majors from Opening Day and Andrew Abbott, a 2021 draft decide who was our no. 90 prospect earlier than the season (no. 130 in ZiPS) had an enormous begin within the excessive minors. He earned a promotion and threw six scoreless innings (and almost 5 hitless) in his debut.

In a division the place the Cardinals have dug themselves a gap from which extrication could show troublesome, the Reds have greater playoff hopes than they’ve any proper to at this level within the rebuild. Going into the season, ZiPS pegged them with a 2% probability of constructing the playoffs, with the belief that the Reds wouldn’t be overly aggressive with their prime prospects. However McLain was up by mid-Could and De La Cruz has an amazing shot at grabbing an ironclad lock on not less than the third base job earlier than the All-Star Break. As of Wednesday morning, ZiPS has the Reds at 9% to make the playoffs — nonetheless an extended shot, however concerning the odds of an Aaron Judge homer in any given plate look and no person’s precisely shocked when that occurs.

And De La Cruz isn’t the top of it. That vanquisher of William Van Landingham and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, is hitting .352/.408/.716 in Louisville; ZiPS tasks that the Reds would hit 11% playoff odds in the event that they merely made him the beginning first baseman proper now. Now, Joey Votto’s eventual return may spoil that risk, however there are sufficient weak spots within the lineup that the Reds might get artistic. And the crew could must. It’s stunning, however the lineup may very well have a expertise crunch within the close to future that may require some imaginative pondering to handle. Jonathan India has had a pleasant little bounce-back season to date, so the additional shortstop prospect(s) are unlikely to discover a short-term house there, and DH isn’t an amazing possibility except the Reds give Tyler Stephenson far more time behind the plate. And whereas Wil Myers is ripe for a DFAing after he returns, Jake Fraley and TJ Friedl have completed greater than was ever requested of them getting into the season. Who would have thought the Reds can be plagued with the horrible illness of “an excessive amount of awesomeness” this shortly?

The Reds’ tepid strategy to competition in 2021 could have understandably sapped many a Cincy fan’s love for the crew. Possession actually isn’t doing its greatest to win again that affection, however the Reds’ younger expertise could. The followers certain appeared to take pleasure in final evening’s walk-off:

There are extra compelling causes to move over to Nice American Ball Park than there seemed to be a yr in the past, and Elly De La Cruz is an enormous a part of that.