The future has arrived: Reds promote Elly De La Cruz to the big leagues

The future has arrived: Reds promote Elly De La Cruz to the big leagues

After weeks of anticipation and Instagram trolling from the Louisville Bats and the man himself, the news is official: the Reds are promoting top prospect Elly De La Cruz to the major leagues.

De La Cruz will join the Reds on Tuesday for the start of the team’s three-game series against the Dodgers. In a corresponding move, the team placed Nick Senzel on the 10-day injured list with right knee irritation.

De La Cruz is playing third base and batting cleanup for the Reds in his MLB debut.

Presumably, De La Cruz will split time between shortstop and third base, as he has in Triple-A Louisville this season. But how the Reds deploy him every day remains to be seen.

If De La Cruz plays shortstop, Matt McLain will likely slide over to second base, displacing Jonathan India. Notably, India has been taking ground balls at third base — the position he played in college and the minor leagues — during batting practice in recent days, according to the Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith.

On days when India serves as the designated hitter, second base would open up for McLain and shortstop for De La Cruz. If India stays at second base for now, third base is wide open with Senzel on the IL.

Playing time will only get more difficult to sort out when Joey Votto, who just started a rehab assignment, returns and Christian Encarnacion-Strand gets called up. The team is already shifting players around, giving Spencer Steer a start in left field on Tuesday. However things shake out, the Reds have a good problem on their hands.

The Reds are adding a player who many consider to be the top prospect in baseball. With all due respect to Senzel and even Hunter Greene, De La Cruz is easily the Reds’ most-hyped prospect since Jay Bruce, who was also the game’s top prospect when called up in 2008. De La Cruz has arguably been the most electric player in the minor leagues over the last two seasons, with a toolset off the charts. Power, contact ability, speed, arm strength — De La Cruz has it all in his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame. Oh, and he’s also a switch-hitter!

This season, the 21-year-old got off to a slow start. After missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain, he went 2-for-22 with 11 strikeouts and one walk in his first five games at Triple-A. Since then, he’s hitting .331/.436/.699 in 163 plate appearances, good for a wRC+ of 177. More than half of his 45 hits have gone for extra bases, with 10 doubles, two triples, and 12 home runs. Most impressively, De La Cruz has quelled some concerns about his one weakness: plate discipline. Regarded as a bit of a free-swinger, De La Cruz has a 14.0% walk rate and 26.9% strikeout rate this season. Coming into 2023, he had a career 29.4% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate in the minors.

His light-tower power is perhaps the loudest skill in his deafening toolkit. Only 10 minor-league hitters have more home runs than De La Cruz (40) since the 2022 season, including fellow Reds prospect Christian Encarnacion-Strand (46). Only five minor-leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances over the last two years have a higher isolated power (.296), which shows how often a batter hits for extra bases as opposed to singles.

Even those impressive stats don’t do De La Cruz justice, however. Statcast provides an even more jaw-dropping look at his power. De La Cruz has the hardest-hit ball in professional baseball this season, a double that left the bat at 118.8 mph.

Nobody in the minor or major leagues has hit a ball harder in 2023. He has seven batted balls with exit velocities above 115 mph. No big-leaguer has more than five (Ronald Acuña Jr. and Giancarlo Stanton). In the entirety of the Statcast era, which dates back to 2015, the Reds as a franchise have only two batted balls hit that hard — one by Aristides Aquino (118.3 mph) and the other by Michael Lorenzen (116.5 mph).

For the season, De La Cruz has an average exit velocity of 92.7 mph, a 53.4% hard-hit rate, and a 15.5% barrel rate. While those numbers are against Triple-A pitching, here’s approximately where they’d rank among MLB hitters for context:

  • Exit velo: 92nd percentile
  • Hard-hit rate: 93rd percentile
  • Barrel rate: 99th percentile

But hitting the ball hard isn’t De La Cruz’s only elite skill. He’s also among the fastest players in the minor leagues, using his long stride to effortlessly glide around the bases. He routinely tops 30.0 ft/s in sprint speed, which is where the game’s fastest players sit. He recently hit a sprint speed of 31.9 ft/s. That’s 100th percentile speed.

De La Cruz had 47 stolen bases in 2022 and has 11 so far in 2023. But that’s not the only way his speed impacts the game. He also uses it to swipe extra bases.

Take, for instance, his first Triple-A hit:

It’s hardly surprising that only one minor-league player has more triples than De La Cruz (21) since 2021.

Here’s De La Cruz cruising around the bases for a triple during spring training:

De La Cruz simply puts pressure on the defense, adding more speed to a Reds team that has already used it advantageously this season.

Here he is causing havoc on the bases during his time in the Dominican Winter League last October, resulting in a Little League home run:

De La Cruz has also shown promise with the glove.

His speed and height give him tremendous range, allowing him to get to balls many other shortstops and third basemen do not. His arm strength is also ridiculous. On May 6, De La Cruz uncorked a 99.2-mph throw from third base to retire an opposing batter. Only two MLB infielders, including Jose Barrero, have a harder throw this season.

It’s not exaggerating to say De La Cruz has the potential to be a franchise-altering player for the Reds. Those are lofty expectations to put on anyone’s shoulders, let alone a 21-year-old. But De La Cruz has only raised the bar with each passing game. Every time he steps on the field, he does something electrifying, whether it’s with his bat, speed, glove, arm, or all of the above.

There will be a learning curve for De La Cruz at the big-league level, and he’ll need to show his improved patience at the plate can carry over. But if his minor-league career is any indication, he’s up for the challenge — and he’s a very quick learner.

Featured photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

1 Response

  1. Rus says:

    And batting 4th? No pressure on the kid.