Reds top-rated position player bringing ‘special talent’ to Dayton

Dragons shortstop Elly De La Cruz met with local media for the first time Wednesday at DayAir Ballpark. Bench coach Juan Samuel (left) translated for De La Cruz. Alexa Sandler/Dayton Dragons

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Dragons shortstop Elly De La Cruz met with local media for the first time Wednesday at DayAir Ballpark. Bench coach Juan Samuel (left) translated for De La Cruz. Alexa Sandler/Dayton Dragons

Elly De La Cruz arrives in Dayton this baseball season wanting to change the narrative.

The one that says pro ball has too many home runs and strikeouts and not enough action on the basepaths. Baseball is changing rules and experimenting with rule changes, hoping to breathe excitement into the sport. But it also takes dynamic players. And the Cincinnati Reds believe they have one in the 20-year-old De La Cruz.

The top-rated position player in the organization, De La Cruz debuts with the Dayton Dragons at 7:05 p.m. Friday at DayAir Ballpark and is the team’s youngest player. New Dragons manager Bryan LaHair is excited to write the 6-foot-5 shortstop’s name on the lineup card every night as long as he can keep him.

“He brings a ton of fun to this game,” LaHair said. “He’s one of the more exciting players I’ve ever watched at this point. He’s still got a long ways to go, but he’s definitely a special talent that I think you guys are going to really enjoy watching.”

Every organization looks for the five-tool player, and LaHair says, “He definitely is a five-tool player in my eyes.”

De La Cruz is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, steals bases, goes from first to third in situations most players can’t and has a strong arm. De La Cruz carried a .296/.336/.874 slash line in 247 at-bats (50 in rookie league, 197 in Daytona) last summer. He hit eight home runs, batted in 42 runs and stole 10 bases.

De La Cruz spoke through a translator Wednesday at the Dragons’ media day, but he understood the question: Are you the fastest player on the team?

“Yes, yes,” he said and flashed a wide smile.

De La Cruz signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2018. He has grown at least three inches since and added strength. The physical growth combined with his skills was the biggest surprise in the Reds’ organization last year.

His quick promotion from rookie ball to Low-A Daytona and his subsequent success allowed him to surge in the prospect rankings. He enters this season ranked No. 76 by MLB.com and No. 3 in the Reds’ organization behind pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo.

Greene is starting the season with the Reds and Lodolo is traveling with the Reds. The expectation is that Lodolo will be added to the roster next week and start the Reds’ sixth game. When Greene and Lodolo graduate from the prospect level, De La Cruz will likely move to No. 1.

“There’s no pressure,” De La Cruz said through translator and Dragons coach Juan Samuel. “I’m just excited to be here, and I cannot wait for opening day. I hear a lot of good things about the city.”

De La Cruz said his rise as a prospect has been faster than he expected, and he credited his physical maturity as a major factor. Now with a full season to play, he’s ready to improve and reduce his strikeouts.

“We have to focus and listen and take advice, and I have to use what works me,” De La Cruz said. “I’m very, very excited that we’re finally going to play a whole season and show what I can do on the field.”

The Reds sent more highly rated prospects to Dayton than usual. De La Cruz is one of six Dragons rated among the Reds’ top 17 prospects.

“I’m extremely proud and happy to be part of this club,” he said. “This is an outstanding group.”

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