It takes a lot for me to get excited about a prospect call-up these days. Too many fakeouts can lead to burnout, and by now, I've reverted to my pre-2011 presumption that most call-ups, regardless of stature, will struggle to adapt to the big leagues.
But I've said that if there's one prospect whose arrival would still send me turning cartwheels, Elly De La Cruz is, as the kids say, him. And now he's here, finally getting the call to the big leagues Tuesday.
So what makes him so exciting? Just look at this:
I could make the whole article just a highlight reel if I wanted, but if you prefer the cold, hard numbers, I have those for you, too.
De La Cruz is a caliber of talent that, frankly, we haven't seen before, at least not since Statcast was introduced in 2015 to allow us to measure such things. What I mean is that no player, majors and minors included, hits the ball harder than he does. Indeed, he has the hardest-hit ball in all of professional baseball this year, and he also had a game in which he hit three balls in excess of 116 mph, which is something that had never been done before -- by an entire team, I mean, not just a single player. The kicker is that two of those batted balls were home runs, one from the left side of the plate and one from the right side.
Of course, talent is squandered all the time, and while De La Cruz is capable of doing things no other player can do, it doesn't mean he'll do them with the consistency required for superstar production. In fact, consistency concerns were what kept him from being the consensus No. 1 prospect coming into the year. His 6-foot-5 frame gives him a big strike zone, and he hasn't always demonstrated the greatest control of it. His career minor-league strikeout rate is 29.0 percent, and through his first 13 games at Triple-A this year, it was 33.9 percent.
In 25 games thereafter, though, it was 23.4 percent while his walk rate was up near 20 percent, almost triple what it was previously. In those 25 games, De La Cruz batted .327 (32 for 98) with 11 homers, nine steals and a 1.225 OPS. If that's not evidence of him turning the corner, I don't know what would be.
Granted, strikeouts will almost certainly be a part of De La Cruz's game still, but given how hard he hits the ball he can probably withstand a rate of 30 percent or higher. Truth is I don't actually know what it would take to bring down a talent of his caliber because, again, I'm not sure we've seen it before. What I can say is his hits are all rockets, his throws are all bullets, and his entire being is a blur on the base paths. I've written before that De La Cruz, as another freakishly tall shortstop with freakish athleticism, is derivative of Oneil Cruz right down to his last name ("de la" translating to "of the"), but I'm going to revise that stance now. He's even better.
Of course, I'm probably preaching to the choir here. As of this writing, De La Cruz is rostered in 81 percent of CBS Sports leagues already (less on other sites). While that does mean roughly 15-19 percent of you need to get your butts in gear already, it also means the majority of you are either counting your blessings or lamenting your losses right now.
So what, dare I ask, would a De La Cruz trade look like today? Might you still want to cash in -- or even, perchance, buy in? Whenever a prospect arrives with this much hype, there will always be those willing to sell the metaphorical farm for him, so it's difficult to parse what's theoretically possible from what's actually possible. Suffice it to say, though, you hold way more cards as a seller than a buyer right now.
Better, then, to express his value in terms of a ranking, and as far as that goes, I'm already willing to slot De La Cruz ninth at shortstop, ahead of 2023 standouts like Nico Hoerner and Thairo Estrada and legacy plays like Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. He'll also be eligible at third base soon enough, seeing as that's where he's debuting .
There's of course a chance he strikes out 35 percent of the time and struggles to adapt like so many prospect call-ups do -- can't have the reward without the risk -- but a ranking any lower introduces its own kind of risk. You could be selling way short on his upside. If things go the other way and he indeed lives up to his potential from Day 1, it's reasonable to think we'll be looking to draft De La Cruz as early as Round 1 next year.