As we continue our tour of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape, this afternoon we take a look at the Chicago Cubs #7 prospect, Oscar De La Cruz.
If you’re a devoted Cubs fan, you might have noticed that a new pitching prospect has been climbing the rankings. A pitching prospect that really nobody knew about until very recently. This pitcher is Oscar De La Cruz, and after years of flying under everyone’s radar, he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
De La Cruz grew up in the Dominican Republic and tried out for MLB teams at shortstop when he was just 17 years old. The Cubs weren’t interested in signing him at short, but were so intrigued in his arm that they signed him for very little money as a pitcher. Not only did the Cubs like his strong arm, they liked his impressive size; he’s 6’4”, 200 lbs., and still growing.
Despite being only 21 years old now, De La Cruz has been in the Cubs’ system for four years. He spent his first two years in the Dominican Rookie League, and wasn’t on anyone’s radar despite seeing success, but finally broke out at short-season ball in 2015 with the Eugene Emeralds. He didn’t start his 2016 season until mid-July due to a few different minor injuries, but joined Low-A South Bend and made a name for himself.
The quick-working right-hander ended his short 2016 with a 3.25 ERA, which should be much lower but is dragged upwards from one dismal outing (6 ER in 3 IP). Nobody hit a single home run off of De La Cruz at Low-A and he finished with an outstanding 11.4 K/9. His opponents batted a miserable .218 against him.
As impressive as his stats are, they don’t give the best representation of the skills that De La Cruz holds. His physical presence and stuff off of the mound have made him a force to be reckoned with by themselves.
His fastball is devastating to hitters. Throwing the pitch anywhere in the mid-90s (he reaches 97) and at a sharp downward angle from his large stature, he’s been making bats miss his whole career (and let’s not forget that he can add to his size, which would make his fastball that much better). His curve with its tight spin is impressive and has the signs of becoming a plus pitch, but he hasn’t shown the consistency necessary to make it un-hittable. His changeup rounds out his arsenal, yet isn’t in any way impressive, and many feel that this pitch needs developing if he wants to succeed.
He’s coming off of an injury-ridden year, so the Cubs might want to take it slow with him, but as he’s already been in the minor league system for such an extensive period of time, it’s possible that he could rapidly make his way up the ranks. MLB Pipeline puts his ETA at 2018, which is possible, especially in a 40-man September scenario, but it’s probably more likely to take De La Cruz until 2019 to be a solid part of the major league roster.