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.
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.