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Red-Hot Reds Rookie, De La Cruz Races to Bigs
ALSO: FISCAL INSANITY IS TAKING OVER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
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Nice article on the upcoming HoF classes. New inductees almost always make me feel older, because I’ll have seen someone enter MLB, play an entire career, retire and wait five or more years for induction. Two corrections: Adrián Beltré isn’t the only 450/3000 player (Aaron and Mays are two right there). Maybe he’s the only 3B. Ichiro of course won’t be in the class of 2005. Do you mean 2025?
— Hillel Kutler, Jerusalem, Israel
Sharp-eyed Hillel is right on both counts. We apologize for lighting up the big E on the scoreboard.
Did you know…
Two-way star Shohei Ohtani had a better year in 2022 than he did during his MVP year of 2021 and was disappointed he didn’t win the trophy again . . .
Ohtani’s 2023 season will begin with a single Cactus League start for the Angels before he jumps to Japan for the World Baseball Classic on March 1 . . .
Now that Arte Moreno has taken the Angels off the market, he’s certain to be among the top bidders when Ohtani becomes a free agent this fall . . .
The Boston Red Sox are banking on the good health of newly-acquired Adalberto Mondesi, a fleet switch-hitting shortstop who has spent most of the past two seasons on the shelf (torn ACL plus oblique and hamstring injuries) . . .
The San Francisco Giants have decided to take a flyer on southpaw Sean Newcomb, the personification of poor command, signing him to a minor-league contract even though he’s never been able to throw strikes with any consistency . . .
Kevin Seitzer, starting his ninth year as hitting coach of the Atlanta Braves, has been in that position longer than any other active batting coach . . .
Chipper Jones was the only Brave with 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same year . . .
Rookie first baseman Ronald Guzman of the San Francisco Giants hopes to follow in the footsteps of Shohei Ohtani and become a two-way player . . .
Kudos to Washington for wisely grabbing overlooked closer Alex Colomé on the free-agent market just weeks before the start of spring training.
The Ambiguous Ceiling Of Elly De La Cruz
By Lindsay Crosby
There's never been a player quite like Elly De La Cruz.
Not very highly regarded in the 2018 International Free Agency class (he was not listed in Top 100 lists for international signees and received a bonus of only $65,000), he's become a consensus Top 100 prospect in Minor League Baseball.
Physically, Elly De La Cruz is the best pure athlete to play in the Cincinnati Reds organization since Deion Sanders spent his free time away from a Hall of Fame football career roaming the outfield for the Reds.
His sprint speed is elite, coming in at a 70 or 75 grade on the typical 20-80 scouting scale (with 50 representing MLB average), with a 70-grade arm that is best described as a "railgun" and 70-grade power potential. Having one elite (70) grade is rare enough for a prospect, but three elite grades? Virtually unprecedented.
Defensively, there's a lot of questions about where Elly De La Cruz ends up for Cincinnati. Not because he's not good at shortstop, mind you, but because the combination of tools could allow him to excel at multiple positions.
He’s expressed interest in being the shortstop of the future for the Cincinnati Reds, but in a system absolutely stocked with middle infield defenders, his talents may be better utilized at third base (where he projects to be borderline elite, with good movement to his left) or even in center field, owing to his phenomenal range and that railgun of a right arm.
Because of having multiple elite-level tools, De La Cruz is seen as a rare "unicorn" type athlete who can alter the trajectory of a franchise, if he can be developed to his full potential.
The "Prospect Apparatus", the folks like Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus who make a living doing this sort of thing, vary on whether this is possible, with projections ranging from "MVP-Caliber Superstar'' to "powerful but flawed slugger who might hit 25-30 home runs in a season with a strikeout rate over 30 per cent and a low batting average."
The discrepancy between projections owe to his rather unusual statline: in 2022, he hit over .300 in both High-A Dayton (73 games) and Double-A Chattanooga (47 games) despite a strikeout rate over 31 per cent combined between the two levels.
That strikeout rate was bottom 15 per cent of all qualified minor league hitters, and De La Cruz was the only prospect to strike out over 30 per cent of the time and still qualify for a batting title.
Moving from A-ball or High-A to Double A is usually the biggest jump in difficulty for a prospect, but De La Cruz did not slow down in either statistical production or comfort at the plate. His batting average and on-base percentage essentially stayed the same (.302 BA in High-A to .304 in Double-A; .359 OBP in High-A to .357 in Double-A), although the slugging dropped from an astronomical .609 in High-A to "only" .553 in Double-A Chattanooga.
De La Cruz was recognized with the Southern League’s “Prospect of the Month” award for August after finishing his first full calendar month with 19 extra-base hits in 24 games.
When you watch the at-bats, the strikeouts stem from De La Cruz's approach at the plate: he legitimately (and possibly rightfully) believes he can hit ANYTHING. He is incredibly aggressive early in the count, and subsequently can be coaxed to chase well-executed breaking pitches that start over the plate but dive or dart out of the zone.
His length doesn't help — being listed at 6'5, the long levers in the swing result in some susceptibility to not only elevated fastballs (which are some of the only fastballs actually increasing in usage amongst the minors) but pitches that come in on his hands.
Executing that "up and in'' pitch, however, is more easily said than done.
Maybe that's the key to Elly De La Cruz's success at every level in the minors so far: the pitchers he's facing can't properly execute a game-plan that takes advantage of his weaknesses at the plate and capitalizes on his aggressiveness.
It’s a shame that his time in AA didn’t overlap with Tampa Bay’s Taj Bradley or that he didn’t get to face Miami’s Eury Perez. He did face the Angels’ Chase Silseth on August 21st, 2022 and went one for three against him with a solo home run and two strikeouts, the quintessential Elly De La Cruz statline.
The question becomes: at what point is Elly De La Cruz required to adjust his aggressive approach to mitigate his weaknesses with well-placed spin and offspeed?
Is it Triple-A, where he’s expected to open the 2023 season? Is it in Great American Ball Park, where the best pitchers in the world can (theoretically) execute at a high-enough level to take advantage of the aggressive superstar? Or will he ever have to change?
Maybe this is just who he is, and he’s quite literally one of a kind.
Lindsay Crosby is a baseball writer and podcaster. He covers Auburn (NCAA) Baseball for Auburn Daily and is the host of Locked On MLB Prospects, the #1 daily minor league baseball podcast. You can follow him on twitter @CrosbyBaseball.
Luxury Tax Payrolls Hit $5.2 Billion Last Year — And The Fiscal Insanity Is Getting Worse
By Dan Schlossberg
Marvin Miller, who never smiled during 27 years of holding baseball captive, but he’d be laughing all the way to the bank if he were still alive today.
Teams paid players $5.2 billion — with a B — in 2022, pushing past $5 billion for the first time and jumping from 4.5 billion in 2021, according to USA TODAY.
Now that clubs can sell commercial patches for uniforms, things will only get worse.
In fact, before the year is out, it’s a given that Shohei Ohtani will become the first athlete in any sport to earn a contract paying him $50 million a season and $500 million overall — dubious records that not only threaten competition but also the survival of several franchises.
Consider the fact that the teams spent more than a billion dollars in a single week of free-agent frenzy fronted by the San Diego Winter Meetings last December.
In 2022 alone, six teams paid into the luxury tax, set at $230 million, with the Los Angeles Dodgers leading the way at $32.4 million and the New York Mets at $30.8 million. The Mets finished the year with the heftiest payroll ($299.8 million) but were charged a lower rate because they did not vault over the threshold the year before.
Those luxury tax charges wound up in something called the “competitive balance pool” but didn’t do much to spare the game from having four teams lose at least 100 games for the first time in baseball history.
Nor did they do much to dissuade Steve Cohen, the hedge fund magnate who owns the Mets, from trying to buy an All-Star team of free agents. The two highest-paid players in the game are Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, both at a record $43.3 million — nice change for players who work every fifth day.
Last year’s luxury tax payments were also made by the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Padres.
The calculations included the average annual value of player contracts from each club’s 40-man roster plus $16 million per team in additional benefits, ranging from spring training per diems to pension insurance, healthcare, taxes, and meal and tip money — as if players can’t afford their own.
Teams, leagues, and the Office of the Commissioner took in $10.8 billion, also a record, in 2022, and announced new media deals with ESPN, FOX, and TBS that brought in $1.8 billion. Another $1.2 billion accrued in sponsorships.
Now that Cohen has added nearly a dozen free agents, the Mets are miles ahead of the other 29 teams in financial obligations. His current payroll, according to Spotrac, stands at $336,143,332 — and that doesn’t even count the considerable luxury tax allocation.
It’s only a matter of time before CitiField becomes the home of the $25 hot dog, not to mention uniform sleeves covered with patches that resembled the tattooed arms of some of the players.
With a minimum salary of $730,000, it’s hard to believe home run king Hank Aaron never made more than $250,000 in a season. What in the world would he earn today?
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, forbes.com, and Memories & Dreams. He’s also an after-dinner speaker and author of 40 baseball books. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I believe that our rebuild is behind us. We’ve got an incredible chance now to be a very, very competitive team for years.”
— Baltimore Orioles general manager Mike Elias
Since 1995, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had more 90-loss seasons (13) than winning seasons (4) and playoff games (8) combined . . .
Not only have the Miami Marlins never won their division but have lost 90-plus games in each of the past four full MLB seasons, sandwiched around a surprise appearance in the hastily-expanded playoff field of 2020 . . .
Ozzie Albies is the obvious pre-season favorite for National League Comeback Player of the Year . . .
Scott Boras was the first agent to negotiate a player pact valued at $50 million, $100 million, $200 million, $250 million and $300 million . . .
The Tigers hit 110 home runs as a team last year while Aaron Judge hit 62 all by himself . . .
What’s in a name? Take a look:
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 645-972 (.399)
Tampa Bay Rays: 1,267-1,062 (.544)
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