Update on Michael De La Cruz

Prior to this season, we rated Michael de la Cruz as the 20th best prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system and with good reason, he put up extremely impressive numbers in the DSL last year. That led to praise from scouts that saw him play, which put him atop our top DSL prospects list and Baseball America mentioned him as one of the top 20 players from the DSL/VSL last year. He was also named as a possible International breakout prospect by Ben Badler. De la Cruz made the jump to the GCL this year and the results have not been good at all.

De la Cruz is having a tough first season in the United States.

De la Cruz is having a tough first season in the United States.

Last year in the DSL, de la Cruz had a .292 average, drew 58 walks and had an .804 OPS. Much of that was done before his 17th birthday. He stole 14 bases and showed strong defense in center field. He didn’t hit any homers, but he was considered a potential five-tool prospect, with power being the one questionable tool, though he should still be able to reach double digits once he fills out his 6’1″ frame.  In 18 games this year, he is hitting .133 with no extra base hits. People at the GCL games this year have seen the outfield defense on display, plus he is 4-for-4 in stolen bases and he has a 13/10 BB/SO ratio, so there are positive signs despite the hitting. That then leads you to ask about what has gone wrong this year.

With any kid from a foreign country at his age, there are always chances that they don’t adapt quickly to the unfamiliar surroundings and being away from home for this first time. You have to remember that de la Cruz is even younger than first round pick Cole Tucker, and a lot was made about Tucker being extremely young for this draft class. That adjustment period is just speculation based on prior experiences, but the known problems are the ones that have kept de la Cruz off the field. He had what was described as a “skin-related issue” earlier in the season that limited his playing time, but more recently, he has been dealing with an ankle injury. He has played just twice in the last 20 days and not once since July 28th.

The ankle is okay when he runs in a straight line and he walks without a limp, but lateral movements are a problem. He timetable to return is unknown at this time, but it’s seem like they are being very cautious with his return to protect their investment, so he might not see anymore action in the GCL this year. The season ends three weeks from today.

De la Cruz is a talented player, who signed for a $700,000 bonus in 2012, tied for the highest bonus that the Pirates have given an international player in the last three years. You wouldn’t want to rush him back just to get into GCL games when he could make up for lost time in the Fall Instructional League at full health in October. For now, there should be no rush to judge him based on this season alone. He has all the tools to be a star player and youth is obviously on his side.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • IC Bob

    Thanks for the update I was definitely wondering what was up with his sporadic playing time.

  • R Edwards

    I think many people fail to realize how hard it must be for these kids, to leave their family, home, and country – likely for the first time in their life – and come to the US to play baseball – often times when they are only 17-18 years old. I’d imagine for most, they know little if any English. And, if they get off to a slow start, I could see it could be a real struggle – especially when they do not have ready access to family support.

    I am quite confident that the adjustment to the unfamiliar surroundings, language, culture, etc. is a more difficult transition than the baseball adjustment. I think it is pretty remarkable that so many do as well as they do.

    I am sure, if healthy, this kid will do much better next year in the GCL ( I assume that is where he will start out again), having this year under his belt.

    • John Dreker

      #MDLC is real close to his mom, which is tough to be away from her, but she talks to him often, so he is always in contact. I think it helps a little that they have a lot of Latin players on the GCL team. It is definitely tough though.

  • Leefoo Rug Bug

    Good stuff as usual, John.