Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Top Prospects: #20 – Michael De La Cruz

The Pirates Prospects 2014 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2014 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find.  While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks.  Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

We start the countdown with the number 20 prospect, Michael De La Cruz.

20. Michael De La Cruz, OF

It’s rare that we will rate a prospect in the top 50, or even in the top 30, before he has played in the United States. The only player who we’ve previously ranked without a game in the US (including high school) is Luis Heredia. Michael De La Cruz wasn’t signed with the same fanfare as Heredia, getting a $700,000 bonus, as opposed to the $3 M that Heredia received. However, after one full season of lighting up the DSL, De La Cruz impressed enough people that he was worthy of being the exception.

The Pirates signed De La Cruz with the hopes that he could become a five tool outfielder in the future. They were higher on him than a lot of other teams, with some teams balking at his size and the line drive/extra base hit/lack of home run power aspect to his game. The Pirates haven’t shied away from these types of players, leading to Harold Ramirez and now De La Cruz.

The outfielder is a 70 runner, with a 4.0 time from home to first. He wasn’t the most effective base stealer, being successful in 14 of 25 attempts. De La Cruz has an average arm and average defense, although he also has room to grow and could develop those both into plus tools. He hits with a line drive approach, although as he gets older he could add power with the potential for 20-25 home runs.

The Pirates started De La Cruz in the DSL, avoiding the aggressive pushes they gave Harold Ramirez and Elvis Escobar the previous year. He was one of the youngest players in the league, but still dominated with a great average, and some advanced plate patience. He didn’t hit for much power, but that can be excused since he was only 16.

In 2014, De La Cruz will almost certainly move to the GCL. He was invited to the Fall Instructional League, which usually means the player is due to make the jump to the United States the following year. He will be a guy to watch for a potential breakout, due to the ability he has with the bat. He should spend the entire season between extended Spring Training and the GCL, with the chance to go to Bristol or Jamestown for the final week of the season.

It’s hard to put a rating on De La Cruz, since he’s so far away from the majors, and is a highly projectable player. He is rated here almost entirely on tools and potential. The DSL results were nice to see, but they didn’t play much of a factor here. It’s very possible that he could exceed his current grade, but in order for that to happen he’s going to need to show he can have success in the US, while developing some of his tools such as his arm, power, and defense. All of those improvements should come with age and more experience.

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  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 7, 2014 10:41 am

    Tim – First of all, I received my 2014 Pirates Prospects Guide last Thursday or Friday. I just glanced at it so far, but I am looking forward to reading it cover to cover. Although we have disagreed on topics like Alex Dickerson :), I do appreciate your work, this web site, etc. I’ve been a Pirates fan since 1970 – yes I am that old.- through the good and bad.

    As for this De La Cruz kid, hard to believe he played in the DSL at the age of 16, and did as well as he did. How old was Marte, when he first played in the DSL? And, what was Marte’s physical build at that time, compared to this kid?

    Wasn’t there another De La Cruz (but no relation) in the DSL last year for the Pirates? he did not hit for a very good average, but his production in terms of RBIs was phenomenal given his very low average.

    • I don’t recall Marte’s build when he was first signed, but he was signed at an older age. MDLC will probably be in Jamestown or West Virginia at age 18. Marte was just starting his career in the DSL.

      The other De La Cruz was Julio, who is a third baseman.

  • De La Cruz is a month younger than my son. First guy I have followed younger than my kid, making me feel very old.
    Can’t wait until you can watch him in extended spring & Gulf Roast, to get a feel for seeing him in person.

  • Tim,

    Wondering if you might have some insight into how the Pirates view 3rd and 1st Base from a development perspective. I don’t see a viable corner infielder in the pipeline – or am I missing someone. Do they feel that they can always move someone once they hit the AA or AAA level? Or that they can find these players via free agency if needed.

    • It’s definitely easy to move someone to first. My guess is that one of the many outfield prospects will move to first when they reach the upper levels.

      Third base is a bit more difficult. It’s also a position that’s hard to fill around the league. The Pirates have no internal options, but it’s not like other teams are loaded with third base prospects. They’ve still got a few more years with Pedro Alvarez, then they could either opt for a trade, or go the free agent route.

      • or they could just decide to move one of their shortstop prospects to third……oh, wait….they don’t have any you say? Oh, okay. That’s alright, we can get power from first base still, we have a ton of power hitting potential down there right? oh….no? But thank god we have 3 center fielders! We are now seeing EXACTLY why you have to start drafting by positional need. I’ve been saying it for two years, and i’ll keep saying it….You end up with 3 positions of need in the majors with ZERO blue chip prospects ANYWHERE in the system, but 100 outfielders that don’t have the trade bargaining power to fill any of those positions but maybe first base. Brilliant. Just like the Steelers steadfast refusal to draft secondary players yet they keep getting toasted year in and year out because they have noone who can play man coverage on their entire team….Just sayin’

        • “You end up with 3 positions of need in the majors with ZERO blue chip prospects ANYWHERE in the system, but 100 outfielders that don’t have the trade bargaining power to fill any of those positions but maybe first base.”

          None of this is accurate.

          They could move someone like Josh Bell to first base.

          Alen Hanson is a shortstop.

          Third base is a long-term need, but in a worst case scenario they could make a trade for a third baseman, using one of their many outfielders, who do have value.

          I’m assuming those were the three positions of need. Pretty much they have one, and no immediate need at that position. Also, if you’re looking for an organization that has zero positions of need short-term or long-term, you’re not going to find one. The Pirates having needs doesn’t mean they should start drafting for need. That’s a horrible approach.

  • piraterican21
    January 6, 2014 11:09 am

    Height, weight? Although at 16 that will change. Btw, love prospects count down, looking forward to it. Jumping the gun, a bit, ok a lot, do you foresee a move to 3b for Wyaat Mathisen? Hope they do move this kid there soon, let him develope as a hitter and is a position he should be able to handle since he was a former SS, besides the fact that McGuire and Jhang might have already passed him.

    • I too am on this bandwagon. Don’t forget Sanchez too. I know you hate to slide players from valuable positions early on, but 1, sliding a guy out from catcher early saves him from wear and tear on his body. And 2, I’d say that, internally, 3rd has just as much value as catcher at this point.

    • Talked to Mathisen today. He said he was told he’s staying at catcher.

      • Well….that seems like a reasonably good source…

      • I’d be in favor of moving him to Third, but then i get flashbacks of moving Neil Walker to third, when 2 years later we reeeeeally could have used him at catcher. Who knows how good of a catcher he would have been…..

  • At worst, he looks like a potential leadoff hitter.