Image credit: Elly De La Cruz (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Reds prospect Elly De La Cruz entered September with 28 home runs and 38 stolen bases. The 20-year-old shortstop needed two homers to become just the 20th player to go 30-30 in a season since the formation of the modern minor leagues in 1963.
While De La Cruz went homerless in 14 September games for Double-A Chattanooga, that should not obscure his accomplishments in 2022.
That’s because De La Cruz, who hit .304/.359/.586 with 28 homers and 47 steals in 120 games, recently completed one of the greatest power-speed seasons ever seen from a prospect.
According to power-speed number, a metric created by Bill James in the 1980s, De La Cruz ranks 10th in the minors since 1963.
|George Springer||2013||23||AA, AAA||Astros||37||45||40.6|
|Ruben Rivera||1994||20||LoA, HiA||Yankees||33||48||39.1|
|Elly De La Cruz||2022||20||HiA, AA||Reds||28||47||35.1|
|Source: Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball age is listed.|
Context is key to evaluating minor league performance, and this ranking of top 10 PSN seasons is no exception.
Willie Royster and Jacques Landry were much older than their competition as 27-year-olds at Double-A. Ruben Rivera and Juan Samuel shined in their early 20s but played exclusively at Class A levels. Tom Romano and Ken Gerhart were former collegians who dominated Low-A leagues.
De La Cruz doesn’t belong to any of those groups. He played nearly 40% of his games at Double-A, where he was one of just seven 20-year-olds to bat at least 200 times. In fact, filtering the power-speed standouts above to include only those who spent time at Double-A or higher while being age-appropriate for the level yields just four names:
Springer and Strawberry are multi-time all-stars who garnered MVP votes in their peak seasons. Cardenal was a more modest success but was a regular center fielder in MLB at age 21 and spent 18 seasons in the big leagues. His speed transferred from the minors—his 329 steals rank 61st in the expansion era—but the big power he showed in 1963 may have been a product of playing in an extreme hitter’s park in El Paso.
A little further down the list of top PSN seasons, one can find the following upper-level standouts: Juan Samuel again (34.7 PSN in 1983), Luis Robert (33.9 in 2019), Mike Cameron (32.6 in 1996), Kyle Tucker (31.9 in 2019), Andruw Jones (31.9 in 1996), Joc Pederson (31.4 in 2014), Bobby Witt Jr. (30.9 in 2021), Cliff Floyd (30.3 in 1993) and Eric Davis (30.2 in 1983).
That is certainly good company for De La Cruz to keep.
The biggest caveat with De La Cruz is plate discipline. No hitter in the subset of young power-speed players at higher levels struck out as much as he did at 31%. But he is hardly alone.
Springer struck out 27% of the time in a lower-strikeout environment. Same for Strawberry and Pederson, both at 27%. However, that trio of high-strikeout hitters drew walks at a much higher rate than De La Cruz’s 8% mark.
Some crudeness to De La Cruz’s batting profile should be expected. He signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2018 and had reached only the Dominican Summer League for 43 games in 2019 before the pandemic wiped out 2020. Also, he’s a 6-foot-5 hitter with the long levers that entails.
That De La Cruz climbed from the Arizona Complex League in summer 2021 to Double-A a year later speaks to his overall aptitude and ability to adjust.
Above all, what the success of players like Springer, Strawberry and Pederson shows is that young hitters who are athletic and who impact the ball like De La Cruz does tend to figure things out.