One of the best things about writing about minor league baseball is when a guy seemingly comes out of nowhere and just kills the game. This season there are two guys in the Cincinnati Reds farm system that have done that. Graham Ashcraft has done that on the mound – though he wasn’t exactly “out of nowhere”, he was a 6th round pick who had half of a season in rookie ball under his belt before the year began. But over the last month another player has emerged and is absolutely out of nowhere: Elly De La Cruz.
The 19-year-old signed with the Reds in the 2018 international signing period. I don’t have his signing bonus information, but I do know that Cincinnati was still under penalty for what they spent in 2016 (Jose Barrero, Vladimir Gutierrez, Alfredo Rodriguez, etc) and couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on any single player. We also know that the largest bonus the Reds gave out in the 2018 class was $150,000 and only two players got that. So when the Reds signed Elly De La Cruz he was not a high profile signing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he or anyone else can’t become a future high quality prospect or even big leaguer. But it does mean that those guys can really come out of nowhere. In 2019 De La Cruz played with the Dominican Summer League Reds and hit .285/.351/.382. That’s a solid line for a 17-year-old in that league, but it didn’t stand out. Of course he was also the age of a high school junior and there’s a ton of reason to not place too much emphasis on the stats for players in this league. Obviously the better the numbers are, the better you feel about them. But there’s an incredibly long list of big leaguers who didn’t exactly perform like “stars” in the complex level leagues to begin their careers. Take Aristides Aquino for example, he spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and he hit .193/.280/.286 in over 500 plate appearances.
After missing the 2020 season when it was cancelled, the Reds brought Elly De La Cruz stateside and assigned him to the complex level Reds out in Goodyear. His stay there lasted just 11 games because he hit .400/.455/.780 with 11 extra-base hits. Perhaps due to injury needs in Daytona a little bit, but certainly helped by his performance, De La Cruz headed out to join the Tortugas this past weekend. In his five games since joining them he’s hit .348/.348/.696 with five more extra-base hits. 16 games this year, 16 extra-base hits for the 19-year-old.
That kind of power production sticks out like a sore thumb. It sticks out like a skyscraper in a corn field when you’re talking about a teenager. Last night the infielder went out and picked up two more base hits. Both of them were singles. They were both infield hits that went four feet before hitting the ground and he beat them out.
In the Low-A Southeast the Hawkeye technology that is used in the big leagues to give us all of the Statcast data is also being used, with one exception: In Daytona. All of the other ballparks in the league are the spring training homes of big league teams, so footing the bill makes a lot more sense there. Daytona, however, is not the home of a big league team for spring training, so the technology was not installed there. The Tortugas, however, were playing on the road last night and that meant access to data we don’t usually get. And for Elly De La Cruz is provided yet another positive mark on his scouting report.
On his two infield singles he reached sprint speeds of 30.5 FT/SEC and 30.6 FT/SEC. The Major League average is just 27 FT/SEC according to Baseball Savant. We can also look at the leaderboard to see exactly where those numbers would fall…. sort of. We only get the average number on “competitive runs” for players – but that’s what we want to see in order to determine their speed. There are only six players that are averaging 30.0 FT/SEC this season. Only for are better than that and all are between 30.5 and 30.7 FT/SEC.
So what we are seeing here is a 19-year-old who is averaging one extra-base hit per game played and that same player is showing elite level speed.
Reds Draft Signings Update
The Cincinnati Reds were seemingly the last team to announce the signing of any draft pick, but they’ve been doing a whole lot since and now have just three picks that remain unsigned: Matt McLain (1st), Shawn Guilliams (11th), and Dennis Boatman (17th).
Reds have signed Jamal O’Guinn
The draft is still far shorter than it was just two years ago. A normal draft is 40 rounds, but last year it was just five, and this year it was just 20. That’s led to a lot of guys who would have normally been drafted returning to school or having to sign as undrafted free agents. That has applied each of the last two years to Jamal O’Guinn.
While at USC he played first base, third base, left field, and right field. His performance at the plate was inconsistent. In 2020 he tore it up in 14 games, hitting .391/.533/.565. But he came back down to .262/.385/.459 in 2021 as a senior – with a line that was right there with his .281/.401/.452 slash he posted as a sophomore in 2019.
The stats don’t jump off the page at you. Some of the tools, though, do. Listed at 6′ 4″ and 220 lbs, he’s got above-average to plus power potential. He also has a plus. He seems to show a good eye at the plate for the most part, too. But his swing hasn’t allowed him to tap into that power or take advantage of his eye at the plate as much as scouts believe that he could. There’s potential here for a real good pick up if he can work with the development staff and get his swing in a better, more consistent place.