When I think about Theo Epstein’s “Plan,” there is really only one part of it that has failed. The Cubs have yet to develop any starting pitching from within. In both the draft and international free agency, the Cubs have so far struck out. But in the next two years, there are plenty of pitchers at AA and A+ who can change all that. One of them is 22-year-old Oscar de la Cruz.
Originally signed as a shortstop in 2012, de la Cruz quickly switched to pitching and made his debut in the DSL in 2013 and 2014. When he came stateside in 2015, he skipped Mesa and went to Short-Season Eugene. It was there that he caught everyone’s attention when he struck out 73 in 73 innings, including 13 in one game.
Some elbow inflammation in spring training of 2016 kept him out of most of the action until mid-summer. His rehab took him from Mesa to Eugene to South Bend where he pitched 39 innings and struck out an amazing 52. But in the big scheme of things, 39 IP is not a lot for a starter. The hope for 2017 was that he would throw much more.
Signed: IFA 2012
Mid 90s fastball, can get up to 97, usually sits 93 to 95
Slight arm side run
Plus curveball, 1 to 7 action
Average change up
Can throw all three pitches for strikes
Areas of Concern
This may sound strange given the strikeout numbers, but he pitches to contact a lot
Durability: he is an injury concern
Efficiency: he doesn’t pitch deep into games
Because of last year’s injury, it seemed as though the Cubs were treating him with kid gloves to start this year in Spring Training. I was not sure if he was going to debut in Myrtle Beach or stay back in extended spring training until it was warmer. He did make his debut on April 9 but had some inconsistencies throughout the month of April. To me, it seemed like he held back a little bit as if to protect his arm. He had a 4.24 ERA in April while striking out 20 in 23.1 innings.
May has gone much better. His arm looks much looser and his action much cleaner. He struck out 22 in 24 innings with an ERA of 2.63 for the month.
I saw him pitch twice this year before last week, when he struck out 10 against Winston-Salem. His stuff had a lot of movement, and he was pitching inside a lot to the Dash hitters. I planned to see him pitch last night, but…
He was scratched fifteen minutes before the game started. According to announcer Scott Kornberg, de la Cruz had gone through his pre-game throwing routine in the outfield before the decision was made to skip his start. At press time, the extent of the injury was not known. He could have been taken out as a precaution or it could be a tweak. Hopefully, more news will come out today and it is not serious.
Oscar has a lot of promise. Any missed time is really an impediment to his development. At this time, that is just as frustrating for him as it is for us.
As major league starter, Oscar is going to need to pitch between 160-200 innings. The most innings he has thrown in his short career are 73. That needs to improve if he is to make it as a starter, and hopefully, at age 22, he is not looking at yet another setback.
Lead photo courtesy Larry Kave—Myrtle Beach Pelicans