Cincinnati Reds infielder Elly De La Cruz is nearing the completion of his first week in the majors, and one thing is for sure: he's a blast to watch. De La Cruz entered Sunday's series finale versus the St. Louis Cardinals batting .316/.409/.632 (172 OPS+) with three extra-base hits and two stolen bases.
Those statistics are impressive enough for anyone, let alone for a 21-year-old switch-hitter, but they don't reflect the thrilling nature of De La Cruz's dynamic power-speed combination. It shouldn't come as any surprise that he's strong or fast (CBS Sports' recent scouting report on him from before his debut noted as much), but if you haven't seen much of him in action so far then you might not have a proper appreciation for the absurdity of his gifts.
With that in mind, allow us to violate the Small Sample Size Treaty of 2010 in an effort to illustrate De La Cruz's exciting game.
Elite raw power
In the olden days, you used to have to rely on some combination of box-score stats and anecdotal evidence to determine who was the majors' strongest player. These days, you can just check out their ball-tracking data.
Predictably, De La Cruz stacks up well compared to the rest of the league. Through 22 plate appearances, he's sporting an average exit velocity of 99.8 mph. What's more is that 89% of his batted balls have had exit velocities of 95 mph or higher, meaning he's consistently socking the ball. Consider that New York Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have the highest average exit velocities this season among players with at least 50 trips to the plate. Judge checks in at 97.2 mph and Stanton at 95.3 mph. (Judge is also one of two players to have more than 60% of their batted balls clear 95 mph, with Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman being the other.)
Obviously De La Cruz's exit-velocity numbers will come down over the coming weeks (his average exit velocity in Triple-A was just 93 mph), but one category where his best work lies ahead is in his maximum exit velocity. His hardest-struck ball in the majors so far registered at 114.8 mph, tying him for 21st among big-league hitters. During De La Cruz's time in the minors, he cleared the 115-mph mark on seven occasions, including his personal-best 118.8 mph. For those wondering, the hardest struck ball recorded this season in the majors was by Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson, at 118.6 mph.
CBS Sports recently noted that De La Cruz's hardest-hit balls average a launch angle around 11 degrees, which should bode well for his chances of hitting for average and power moving forward.
Generally speaking, players with 80-grade raw power should not be able to move as quickly as De La Cruz does. He went 71 for 94 on stolen-base attempts during his minor-league career -- there was one steal earlier this season in the minors where he took third when the catcher made a lackadaisical return throw to the pitcher -- and he's more than capable of making a difference with his legs in addition to his bat. Take a look at this play from Saturday:
Afterward, De La Cruz told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic that he was, simply, "the fastest man in the world." He's at least in the conversation for the fastest man in the majors based on one metric. Per Statcast, De La Cruz's average sprint speed so far of 30.3 feet per second ranks third among all big-league players, behind only Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and Texas Rangers outfielder Bubba Thompson. As if to prove his point, he then recorded this infield single on Sunday:
De La Cruz also recorded the fastest home-to-third time in the majors this season on a triple:
It's to be seen how De La Cruz's speed ages -- most players lose a step or two as they move into their mid to late 20s, especially when they're 6-foot-5 and likely to add more muscle to their frames -- as well as how often the Reds allow him to run. After all, Cincinnati may not want to risk him suffering a hand or wrist injury on a stolen-base attempt given how important he'll be to their lineup. For the time being, though, it's clear that they're willing to let him go, and that he's capable of taking advantage of that green light.
De La Cruz and the Reds entered Sunday with a 30-35 record on the season, putting them in third place in the National League Central and four games back overall. The Reds are 3-2 since promoting De La Cruz.