Consensus top 10 prospect in baseball. Shortstop prodigy. Phenom. Astronomical ceiling. Most anticipated Reds prospect since…? I honestly couldn’t tell you. These are all terms to describe the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect, Elly De La Cruz.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve heard his name around baseball for the last year or so. The electric 21-year-old made himself known to Reds fans across the country when he took MLB reliever Brad Boxberger deep for a Grand Slam during a late 2022 Spring Training game:
This game was one of the very few Reds Spring Training games aired on television in 2022, and Elly won over the hearts of Reds fans everywhere. I remember watching this game in my dorm room late at night, leaping out of my chair as a minor leaguer barely older than myself took an MLB reliever deep.
While you’ve heard his name, seen him run, and seen him hit a home run over 500 feet, you might not be familiar with his story. Let’s get to know the future phenom Elly De La Cruz while the Reds kick off their 2023 season today.
In the Beginning, There Was $65,000
De La Cruz is originally from the Dominican Republic, born and raised just north of Santiago in Sabana Grande De Boya. Elly was mostly an afterthought during the 2018 international class, especially when the Reds were limited in their spending due to going over the spending limit during the 2016 season.
De La Cruz joined eleven other players that signed on the first day of the signing period, where none even signed for more than $300,000. The Reds’ scouting director at the time, Eric Lee, mentioned that even though the Reds didn’t sign any consensus top 50 prospects from the international pool, “there’s no shortage of really good baseball players.” Boy, was he right.
At just 16, Elly De La Cruz didn’t get much actual game time in order to develop in the complex and made his Pro-Ball debut on May 31, 2019, for the DSL (Dominican Summer League) Reds.
That team in 2019 was quite successful, helped along by the adolescent Elly to a 47-24 record. De La Cruz also slashed .285/.351/.382 with 26 RBI and 3 SB in 43 games. He even hit his first pro home run on the last day of the season:
While not quite tapping into the power or speed we know him for today, scouts began noticing his loud tools, and 2020 would look to be a big year for the young man.
Instead, March of that year would turn the entire world on its head, and the pandemic put the upcoming baseball season on the back burner. Even though there wasn’t a lot of time to play ball, De La Cruz was noted as gaining muscle to fill out his frame, using his long levers and 6’5 frame to tap into more power.
Looking forward to 2021, Elly would eventually make his debut in the United States.
Hit the Ground Running in 2021
De La Cruz got the chance to show off in front of American fans for the first time in 2021. Elly played in the Arizona Complex and then moving to the Reds Low-A affiliate, the Daytona Tortugas, on July 16, 2021.
Elly burst onto the scene in Arizona, hitting over .400 and having an OPS north of 1.200 in his limited action of 50 plate appearances there. He still had an extremely raw swing but hit three homers and stole two bases in 11 games, and the Reds wanted to keep his hot bat going at a higher level by sending him halfway across the country to Florida.
There in Daytona, De La Cruz would hit five more bombs to a tune of a 106 wRC+, hitting 6% above the league average in the offense-hampering FSL. His power/speed combination mesmerized scouts, with many seeing five-tool potential. He maxed out at a 117 MPH exit velocity as a 19-year-old, something previously unseen.
Listed as Baseball America’s Best Athlete in the Reds organization, Elly rose up top prospect lists to be an industry consensus top 100 prospect at just 19 years old. People across baseball began to see the greatness this player could hold.
Elly De La Cruz became known as one of the fastest risers in all of pro baseball. A 19-year-old 6’5 shortstop with the ability and athleticism to stick at the hardest position on the diamond. Who hit baseballs above 110 MPH with regularity. Who seemed to glide along the basepaths. Who hit from both sides of the plate? Who gets the ball to first base in an instant?
That is who Elly De La Cruz is. That’s who he proved he would continue to be going into the next season.
The Legend Grows – 2022 and Beyond
You, yes, the person staring at their phone reading this article probably know exactly what Elly De La Cruz did during the 2022 minor league season. If you somehow live under a rock and don’t know, here’s exactly what he accomplished:
28 Home Runs
47 Stolen Bases
161 wRC+ in High-A Dayton
134 wRC+ in AA Chattanooga
Slashed .304/.359/.586 in 513 Plate Appearances
And did I mention that he hit a ball 512 feet? If this were in Great American Ballpark, it would have gone into the Ohio River:
Adam Dunn, who? Not to mention that this ball that could be described as hammered, destroyed, tattooed, demolished, crushed, or really any adjective that could be used to denote how far De La Cruz hit that ball could be used. Go ahead and think of another one right now. You’re probably right.
Elly also captured the hearts of baseball fans across social media, stunning fans not just with his athleticism but with his swagger.
De La Cruz’s work ethic is impeccable. Not only did he use his athleticism to propel him to a top 10 prospect entering this upcoming season, he spent his spare time learning English to better interact with his teammates and fans. Seen above in his RedsFest interview, he still speaks with an interpreter but takes time to use his knowledge of the English language as much as he can.
Elly even had a full interview in English during September 2022 for MLBPipleine’s podcast. His English skills are still in the works, but conducting an entire interview is beyond impressive.
During this interview, he made sure that fans know that he “feels comfortable hitting from both sides” of the plate, even if his swing needs a little more work from his non-dominant right-handed side. Elly also made a note of the fact that his approach at the plate is to “be patient and wait for my pitch,” adding on that he could even play in the big leagues right now if he were able.
My personal favorite quote from Elly during this interview was that his plate approach is, “the same every AB, I try to hit the ball hard, every time. Nobody can catch the ball when I hit”. You can find the full interview on Apple Podcasts here, which I highly recommend.
Sparking the Future
The hype around Elly De La Cruz is unlike any I have ever seen before, especially in Reds’ circles around the internet. He very well could be a generational player and has a ceiling higher than any prospect in my lifetime.
Good defense at the most valuable position on the diamond, hitting the ball harder than anyone, throwing the ball harder than anyone, and being faster than almost anyone is a perfect recipe for the best player in baseball.
Can Elly get there? That’s the biggest question on everyone’s minds. Despite all of his athleticism and ability, he does, in fact, have one hole to his game. Shocking, I know. But Elly does strike out a lot. Nearly 30% at every stop, which would put his K-rate at Giancarlo Stanton level, not untenable, but not good either.
It is yet to be seen how Elly’s approach would work at the major league level, but with some more time in the oven at AAA Louisville, he could be a major force in the majors come summertime.
Speaking on Elly’s timeline, he won’t be ready to start the season due to a minor hamstring injury, which he’ll be sidelined with for a week or two to protect him from further complications.
Elly De La Cruz could be the best player in Major League Baseball. He will likely be the next-best Reds shortstop since Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin and De La Cruz has more than enough talent to get there. Can he translate to the major leagues? My answer: Yes.
Get ready to see a whole lot of electricity in the Queen City this summer.