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Keury De La Cruz And Shiny New Toys

Entering the 2012 season, Red Sox prospect Keury De La Cruz was a relative unknown after two years of modest production in short season baseball. At 20, De La Cruz burst onto the prospect scene by posting a .308/.352/.536 line in the South Atlantic League before earning a late season promotion. Is De La Cruz a legitimate prospect? Sure, but the amount of hype he has received due to coming out of nowhere is a phenomenon repeated every winter. The names change, but the excitement… and eventual let down… is the same.

Just last winter, fellow Red Sox Brandon Jacobs posted nearly identical numbers at the same age in Greenville. That success earned him multiple top-100 rankings highlighted by his being named the 46th best prospect on Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 prospects list. This isn’t to say Jacobs did not earn those lofty rankings. He did, and was one of my favorite bat first prospects in 2011. However, the hangover from his 2011 success was a nasty one as slightly above average production at the High-A level has caused his prospect stock to crater — Probably unfairly as he battled injuries in 2012.

As for De La Cruz, his production stands out, but seeing him in person raises a number of question marks about his all-around game. Without a doubt, he possesses at least an above average hit tool which one scout I spoke with projected it to peak at 65 on the 20/80 scale. For now, his best tool allows De La Cruz to achieve success in spite of fringe plate discipline and what may have been the most exaggerated upper cut swing seen this season.

With a bat head that doesn’t linger in the strike zone at all, De La Cruz has to have excellent hand-eye coordination to make consistent, barrel contact. What’s even more impressive is that his swing incorporates so much of his pull arm which is known for power, not bat control. I’ve never seen this style of hitting work for a prospect before De La Cruz. In most instances, my first reaction would be that the hitter needs a complete overhaul of his swing mechanics. In the case of De La Cruz, I’m not so sure.

Defensively, I have concerns with De La Cruz’ route running. He was a slightly below average left fielder in person. With his not being the prototypical left fielder in terms of power projection, defense may wind up being his Achilles heel as most atypical corner outfielders provide additional value with the glove to offset deficiencies in other areas. Of course route running may improve with reps and experience as 2012 was his first season playing left field, but his arm strength and glove are not good enough to project an above average-to-plus defensive outfielder regardless.

For the record, Brandon Jacobs was a better prospect than De La Cruz at the same stage of development. One could argue De La Cruz has the better hit tool and is a slightly better defender at 20, but Jacobs’ offensive ceiling was, and still is significantly higher.

And while prospect fans wonder, “What happened to Brandon Jacobs?” I’d argue the same thing that happens to so many prospects. With six months of no minor league baseball, the season ends and everybody starts to analyze the numbers and build prospects up to heights few actually match.

Evan Gattis crushed High-A ball at 25, so maybe he’s the Braves answer in left field.

Mariners Stefen Romero (who I like) is comped to Jose Vidro, a player with a career triple slash line of .298/.359/.445 because he raked in High-A and Double-A at 23.

…..And the list goes on

Questions about De La Cruz being the heir apparent in left field for the Red Sox have already begun like Brandon Jacobs doesn’t exist. This time next year, Williams Jerez may very well be the Red Sox next shiny new toy as De La Cruz’ prospect status fades to black. And while this is something I consider to be normal when it comes to the online world of prospecting, it’s still fascinating to see the recurring cycle unfold every winter.