The prospect ranks are as excessive as an elephant’s eye at Castellini Farms. The Reds might have entered this rebuilding cycle with all of the grace of an indignant cat making an attempt to get a cereal field off its head (versus the awkward toe-dipping of the final go-around), however by way of trades and their very own scouting, they’ve amassed a powerful quantity of expertise within the minors. By our in-progress farm system rankings, solely the Baltimore Orioles place larger for the 2023 season. Imply ol’ Grandpa ZiPS agrees; the Reds had seven prospects on the preseason ZiPS Prime 100, a complete that trailed solely the Guardians and the O’s. Baltimore and Cincinnati mixed appear to have about 80% of the shortstop prospects in baseball.
Whether or not you go by human or machine, no Purple ranked extra extremely this winter than Elly De La Cruz, who was no. 6 (60 FV) on the prospect workforce’s Prime 100 and no. 15 on the ZiPS checklist. After a powerful 2021 full-season debut, De La Cruz cranked issues up a notch in 2022, hitting 28 homers and slugging .586 mixed throughout Excessive- and Double-A regardless of solely being 20 years previous. Questions nonetheless stay about his long-term defensive place, however his bat has proved to be much more potent for Triple-A Louisville, as he hit 12 house runs in a mere 38 video games and is already two-thirds of the way in which to final 12 months’s stroll whole. He’s chargeable for the Worldwide League’s ERA going up by practically half a run a sport from 2022! OK, I made that final bit up, however you needed to truly give it some thought for a full second earlier than you smelled burning khaki.
In his huge league debut (batting cleanup!), De La Cruz had alternative to indicate off his skill to hit baseballs very, very exhausting. Within the third inning, he crushed a excessive pitch from Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin as if he had been channelling Lori Petty, sending the Cat Man’s fastball screaming into the outfield at a spicy 112 mph, leading to a double for his first main league hit:
He put yet another ball in play, a groundout to Miguel Vargas; the 109 mph worm-burner was hit exhausting sufficient that the digital camera work went proper from the crack of the bat to the ball in Vargas’ glove. And lest you assume his debut was solely about uncooked energy, he drew two of the three walks Gonsolin allowed on Tuesday evening. Evan Phillips spoiled the enjoyable afterward, getting De La Cruz to strikeout wanting with a sweeper on the underside exterior nook.
And sure, this was no extra a fluke than his minor league numbers have been. De La Cruz’s time with the Louisville Bats featured a median exit velocity of 93.4 mph and a 55% hard-hit proportion by StatCast’s reckoning. Now, there are nonetheless areas the place he can enhance offensively — for instance, his 69% contact fee in Triple-A was on the low aspect — however one should bear in mind he’s nonetheless a 21-year-old participant who has rocketed by way of the minors, with little time to hold round and consolidate his features. He’s additionally enjoying as quick as marketed, and offers the Reds shot to have their first 30/30 participant since Brandon Phillips in 2007. The opposite two Reds in that exact membership are Barry Larkin and Eric Davis, who had been additionally fairly good as you could recall. Particularly with the league’s stolen base increase, a 40-40 season isn’t unattainable as an upside state of affairs except he actually goes full Ellraiser.
As you may guess, the already sunny ZiPS projections for De La Cruz have gotten even sunnier after his extraordinarily profitable stint on the highest degree within the minors. ZiPS interprets his 2023 up to now at .271/.340/.488, a pleasant little uptick from final 12 months’s .276/.314/.448 (the 2023 translations takes modifications in league offense within the minors under consideration):
ZiPS Projection – Elly De La Cruz (3B)
Repeating the methodology I used for the ZiPS Prime 100 Prospects getting into the season, this is able to transfer De La Cruz as much as third within the prospect rankings, behind Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson. These projections have Cruz at third, however his projections at quick at practically similar WAR-wise, so both is an affordable risk from the projection POV.
With Matt McLain, a ZiPS favourite, having a torrid debut himself, Cincy has already made two de facto “acquisitions” that could be pretty much as good as any that one other workforce within the NL Central makes this 12 months. They usually’re not the one ones. The Reds cleared the way in which for Spencer Steer to get an prolonged shot within the majors from Opening Day and Andrew Abbott, a 2021 draft decide who was our no. 90 prospect earlier than the season (no. 130 in ZiPS) had an enormous begin within the excessive minors. He earned a promotion and threw six scoreless innings (and practically 5 hitless) in his debut.
In a division the place the Cardinals have dug themselves a gap from which extrication might show tough, the Reds have larger playoff hopes than they’ve any proper to at this level within the rebuild. Going into the season, ZiPS pegged them with a 2% probability of constructing the playoffs, with the belief that the Reds wouldn’t be overly aggressive with their prime prospects. However McLain was up by mid-Could and De La Cruz has a terrific shot at grabbing an ironclad lock on no less than the third base job earlier than the All-Star Break. As of Wednesday morning, ZiPS has the Reds at 9% to make the playoffs — nonetheless a protracted shot, however in regards to the odds of an Aaron Judge homer in any given plate look and no one’s precisely shocked when that occurs.
And De La Cruz isn’t the top of it. That vanquisher of William Van Landingham and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, is hitting .352/.408/.716 in Louisville; ZiPS initiatives that the Reds would hit 11% playoff odds in the event that they merely made him the beginning first baseman proper now. Now, Joey Votto’s eventual return may spoil that risk, however there are sufficient weak spots within the lineup that the Reds may get inventive. And the workforce might have to. It’s stunning, however the lineup may very well have a expertise crunch within the close to future that can require some imaginative pondering to handle. Jonathan India has had a pleasant little bounce-back season up to now, so the additional shortstop prospect(s) are unlikely to discover a short-term house there, and DH isn’t a terrific choice except the Reds give Tyler Stephenson way more time behind the plate. And whereas Wil Myers is ripe for a DFAing after he returns, Jake Fraley and TJ Friedl have executed greater than was ever requested of them getting into the season. Who would have thought the Reds could be plagued with the horrible illness of “an excessive amount of awesomeness” this shortly?
The Reds’ tepid method to rivalry in 2021 might have understandably sapped many a Cincy fan’s love for the workforce. Possession actually isn’t doing its greatest to win again that affection, however the Reds’ younger expertise might. The followers certain appeared to get pleasure from final evening’s walk-off:
There are extra compelling causes to go over to Nice American Ball Park than there seemed to be a 12 months in the past, and Elly De La Cruz is an enormous a part of that.