If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen some minor league players come through the Cincinnati Reds system and just seem to blow the door down. Adam Dunn in 2001. Jay Bruce in 2007/2008. And now it’s possible that we’re talking about Elly De La Cruz doing that in 2023.
Jay Bruce was the top prospect in baseball entering that 2008 season that eventually saw him called up in late May after hitting .364/.393/.630 in 49 games for the Bats. Adam Dunn entered the 2001 season as the #33 prospect but he went crazy and was no longer eligible for prospect lists by the time they were updated next, though he probably would have been in the running for the top spot had things been updated midseason back then, having 32 home runs at the All-Star break before being called up to the big leagues where he hit 19 more of them before the year way over. He also hit one in the Futures Game.
Depending on where you wanted to look, Elly De La Cruz was somewhere between the top prospect in baseball and the 10th best prospect in baseball when this season began. Things didn’t go so well right out of the gate. Beginning the year on the injured list he missed the first three weeks of the Triple-A season recovering from a hamstring injury. When he was activated from the injured list he started the year 1-21 with no walks and 11 strikeouts.
Then things changed, like someone just flipped a switch and the light came on. And Elly De La Cruz hasn’t looked back since. In the 95 plate appearances since that 1-21 start he’s hit .360 with a .453 on-base percentage, and he’s slugged .733. That’s an 1.186 OPS. And it’s coming from one of the youngest players in all of Triple-A.
The 21-year-old has gone through stretches where his OPS has been ridiculously high. He’s always been an extra-base hit machine. The combination of his ability to hit the ball hard and hit it far, coupled with his speed that can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples has just made things unfair at times for fielders.
What he’s doing right now with his pitch recognition and plate discipline, though – that is something new. Last August he walked 12 times. That was only the second month in his career in which he had double digit walks, and the other time saw him walk 10 times. But in August of last year he also struck out 28 times.
On Thursday night in Louisville the shortstop and Reds top prospect walked multiple times in a game for the 5th time in his last nine games. That gave him 13 walks for the month, setting a new career best. He’s also struck out just 15 times during the month. For May he’s got a walk rate of 17.8%. That’s a Joey Votto level walk rate. His strikeout rate for the month is 20.5%. He’s facing the best pitching he’s ever faced and he’s making dramatic improvements in the two areas he had some questions about from observers.
“Everything’s ready,” he told MLB.com’s Sam Dykstra after Thursday night’s game. “We’re just waiting for that call to get us up there.”