“He’s just … different.”
That was me, Wednesday night, over and over again as I tried to explain Elly De La Cruz, the Cincinnati Reds phenom who over the course of just two games in the majors has taken the baseball world by storm. I found myself talking about launch angles, exit velocity, and speed from home to third.
Eventually she stopped me.
“Where did he come from?”
That story begins in the Dominican Republic, where De La Cruz was born, in Sabana Grande de Boya, a town in the southeast region of the country. While Sabana Grande de Boya did not have the kind of organized leagues you see in other parts of the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz showed enough potential as a young child that the brother of his first coach offered to let him move in with him, so he could train more.
At six years old, De La Cruz moved away from home. He would spend years away from home, learning the game and finding more and more competitive leagues to foster his talent. At the age of ten, De La Cruz moved to Santo Domingo, to play in a much more competitive league in the capital city. He was a pitcher and a left fielder, and practiced at a top academy.
But while other players were being signed by MLB teams, De La Cruz was not, and eventually wondered if it was time to step away from baseball.
That’s when a family, the Vilorios, took him in, helped him get some new equipment, and put him on the course to where he is today. As De La Cruz kept getting cut during tryouts, and kept seeing other players signed by professional teams, he started to wonder if he would ever get a similar chance.
“Nobody really noticed me,” De La Cruz said of that time back during the spring. “Scouts didn’t really like me. In the academy, I wasn’t making the cuts during tryouts, and that’s why I wanted to go back home.”
But a chance encounter with the Reds changed everything. Cincinnati had a scout in town to take a look at another shortstop. De La Cruz was. told to attend the workout, in part to make the other player look good.
“In my country, since I wasn’t good enough, I got paired with that shortstop to make him look good,” De La Cruz said. “The next day, the Reds scouts said they came to watch me. The next day, more people came and watched. Then they signed me.”
However, De La Cruz did enough that day, and the Reds eventually signed him as a free agent, to a $65,000 contract.
The road ahead remained bumpy, as he languished in the lower levels of the Reds’ organization during 2018 and 2019. When COVID hit De La Cruz, like many minor league players, wondered if that would be the end of the road. Cincinnati cut two minor league affiliates, but De La Cruz survived that round of cuts.
His first big break came at the Reds’ post-draft camp in 2021. When he flashed his power at those workouts, he was sent to play for Cincinnati’s Arizona Complex League team. He hit .400 with 11 extra-base hits and 13 RBI in just 11 games.
The leap was here.
De La Cruz was promoted to Low-A for the rest of 2021, and in 50 games he batted .269 with 7 triples and 5 home runs. He began 2022 in High-A, and over the course of 73 games De La Cruz posted a slash line of .302/.359/.609, with an OPS of .968. He hit 20 homers in that stretch, with 28 home runs.
He would jump to AA next, and in 47 games De La Cruz posted a slash line of .305/.357/.553, with 8 HRs and 19 stolen bases.
De La Cruz started this season in AAA, playing for the Louisville Bats, the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. In just 38 games for the Bats this season, De La Cruz mashed 12 home runs, helping push his OPS to 1.031. He also stole 11 bases during that time.
That’s when the call came.
So that’s the backdrop. But what are the traits that got him to the majors, and have the baseball world entranced?
He hits the ball insanely hard
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
If you’ve made it this far, you probably know that they track everything in baseball. But one of the latest movements in the game is tracking data such as exit velocity, bat speed, launch angle, and more data points at the plate.
That’s how we know that De La Cruz doesn’t just hit baseballs, he often destroys them.
For example, back in May the Bats won in comeback fashion, beating the Columbus Clippers 10-9. De La Cruz recorded a pair of home runs and a double in that game. But what stood out about that night was not the production, but how he produced those numbers. De La Cruz posted exit velocities of 118.8 mph (double), 117.1 mph (428-foot homer) and 116.6 mph (456-foot homer).
“It was the first time any player – or even any MLB team – hit three balls at an exit velocity above 116 mph in the same game since Statcast began recording data in 2015, according to MLB.com’s research. De La Cruz’s double at 118.8 mph was the hardest-hit ball by any player in the majors or Triple-A this season.”
Before getting the call, De La Cruz ranked second in all of MiLB with an average exit velocity of 93 mph, and second in MiLB with 53.8% of his batted balls exceeding an exit velocity of 95 mph. He did this while maintaining an average launch angle of 6.8 degrees.
What does this mean? He hits the ball hard, and he often hits line drives.
CBS Sports looked at those numbers and compared them with current MLB players. Looking at players with an average exit velocity over 93 mph, and a single-digit launch angle, they found four players in that category: Ronald Acuña Jr., Yandy Diaz, J.D. Davis, and Juan Soto.
Pretty tremendous company.
It did not take long for De La Cruz to duplicate those numbers in the majors. Take his first MLB hit, a double to the gap in right-center with an exit velocity of 112:
He topped that with his first MLB home run Wednesday, which had an exit velocity of 114.8 mph, and traveled 458 feet:
(Again, this is 92 mph up-and-in to De La Cruz, and he not only pulls this, he mashes it to the back row of the bleachers. As I kept muttering to my wife Wednesday night, “it is so hard to get your hands to this, let alone do this to the baseball.” I’m grateful she puts up with me.)
It’s worth noting that the exit velocity on his first hit was the biggest number for the Reds this season, until he topped it Wednesday night:
Some mind-boggling numbers from Elly De La Cruz’s MLB debut:
112 MPH EV (highest EV by a Red this year)
30.4 ft/sec sprint speed
7.74 sec home to 2nd pic.twitter.com/3n1WqnVtd0
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) June 7, 2023
Now let’s talk about those other two numbers.
He is insanely fast
One of the common ways to describe De La Cruz is that he is a “create-a-player.” The kind of athlete you would create when logging on to play MLB The Show for the first time. Because not only does De La Cruz hit for power, but he flashes tremendous speed on the bases.
Watch this play from Louisville, where De La Cruz scores from first on a chopper up the middle:
That’s … for lack of a better word, different.
He has shown that speed already in the majors. As noted above, in his first game he got from home to second in 7.74 seconds, an eye-popping number. But he was not satisfied with just a double Wednesday night, when he did something we have not seen in the majors yet this season:
“Is he for real?”
That was 10.83 home to third on the triple for Elly De La Cruz.
That’s the fastest time home to first by anyone in the majors this year.
Corbin Carroll’s 10.97 is second fastest.
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) June 8, 2023
Baseball has seen young phenoms before, I’m old enough to remember many of them. But De La Cruz does seem different. A 6’5, switch-hitting shortstop who combines insane speed with tremendous power. The kind of player that you dreamed about growing up to become when you were playing in the backyard. The kind of player you would create as yourself when you picked up the latest copy of MLB The Show.
He’s that player right now.
As the Reds’ play-by-play team said in that last clip above, you better get to the ballpark, or to the TV, to watch him.
Because he is different.