He’d earned the rest. That night, the switch-hitter was named winner of the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as the franchise’s Minor League Player of the Year. Splitting time between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga, De La Cruz batted .304 with 31 doubles, nine triples, 28 home runs, 86 runs batted in and 47 stolen bases while scoring 87 runs. He piled up 276 total bases.
He also was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America, which ranked him as Minor League Baseball’s top prospect in Dayton’s Midwest League and was rated by field managers the most exciting player, best batting prospect, best power prospect and fastest base runner in the MWL.
De La Cruz became the first minor league player since George Springer in 2013 to hit at least .300 with at least 25 HR and 40 stolen bases. He led all Reds minor league batters in hitting, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, extra-base hits, total bases, RBI and runs scored.
He went on to hit .286 with a homer and 14 RBIs over 25 games for Licey before deciding that 145 games in a calendar year was enough of a track record.
“It was very emotional,” he said about playing in his native country. “It was cool that my family was able to see my play.”
De La Cruz batted .285 over 43 games in his first season in Cincinnati’s system during the Dominican Summer League season in 2019. The COVID pandemic cost him, along with other minor leaguers, the 2020 season, but he returned to hit a combined .296 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs over 61 games with Daytona and the Arizona Complex League in 2021, setting the stage for his breakout 2022.
As a non-roster player in spring training last season, De La Cruz went 1-for-5, but the one hit was a grand-slam in a 12-8 win over the Brewers on March 23.
He was asked on Friday how he would describe in one word his game.
“Electric,” he said. “Electricity.”
Along the way, he has displayed a maturity that keeps him grounded.
“It’s always about keeping yourself humble,” he said. “If you let your feet get off the ground, you never know where you’re going to go.
“I’ve always had a love for the game. It keeps me going. I’ve always had it in me.”
Redsfest, the franchise’s first in two years due to pandemic concerns, was the first for De La Cruz. He was looking forward to interacting with and gathering advice from the players with whom he’ll be practicing and playing daily starting in February.
“What I like about them is they’re not arrogant,” he said.