Oscar De la Cruz is a big, big man. Everything about him as a baseball player is just huge. While he is listed at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, those stats might be four or five years old. He’s likely closer to 6’6″ and 220 pounds. When I watch him pitch, his hands are so huge the ball almost disappears. That deception might be a key part of his success.
At just 21 years of age, this will only be Cruz’s fifth year of pitching. He began his career as a shortstop and converted to pitching shortly after being signed by the Cubs. He spent two years in the Dominican Summer League and skipped rookie ball to play in Eugene in 2015. It was there that he broke out—pitching 73 innings and striking out 73 batters in a dominant season-long performance.
As a result, expectations were high for 2016. However, a forearm strain and some tenderness caused him to miss the first three months of the year. He was effective across two levels when he came back, though, reaching South Bend and pitching 27 and 2/3 innings with 35 strikeouts. Missing those three months does not seem to have derailed his move up the organizational ladder. He should begin 2017 at High-A Myrtle Beach.
De la Cruz throws from three-quarter arm slot with very little effort. He is able to command the ball up and down and across the strike zone. He does not waste much time on the mound and develops a good rhythm by working quickly.
His fastball has varied much the last two years. At Eugene, he was getting the fastball up to 95 regularly with bursts up to 97. Last year, he sat most of the year at 91 to 93 with some jumps up to 95. Despite the difference in velocity, Cruz still has been able to have a lot of life on his fastball as it tends to explode near the plate.
His curveball is also a plus pitch. It has an 11 to 6 arc and dives away from a right-handed hitter. For a lefty, the ball comes back over the outside of the plate. It can be overpowering at times. Regardless of which side of the plate he throws it to, its real damage comes from the tightness of the spin and the speed of about 76 to 78 mph, which is a huge difference from his fastball.
He still needs to work on his changeup. Although he does throw it around 82 to 84 mph, it really doesn’t have the action that it needs to in order to be an average or even a plus pitch.
Where does he fit in the future?
Last summer, Baseball Prospectus said this of his possibilities.
The fastball and curve, while currently average, show the necessary ingredients to be above-average as he progresses. These two pitches, along with plus command, give him the floor of a useful bullpen arm. With some added polish on the changeup, there is potential for a back-of-the-rotation starter.
I still think it’s a little early to try and place what kind of pitcher he will be. He has yet to pitch more than 75 innings in a single season, and I would like to see how he does at Myrtle Beach this year. In the future, I could see him coming out of the pen to throw a few clicks higher, and I can see his two-pitch mix doing well at the back end of a major league rotation. But without that third pitch, his options could be limited.