Let’s start today with a player comparison between two Cincinnati Reds. Those are always fun.

  • Player A (21-years-old): 427 Plate Appearances, .235/.300/.410
  • Player B (22-23 years-old): 426 Plate Appearances, .255/.305/.390

Player A was a rookie last year. Player B started his career with those numbers.

Player A, you’ve probably guessed, is Elly De La Cruz.

Player B is Barry Larkin during his cup-of-coffee in 1986 and far enough into 1987 to match the playing time of Elly De La Cruz had last year.

The numbers are not meaningfully different, especially when we get into context. In 1987 (when National League pitchers still hit) was the year of the “rabbit ball,” and the league OPS was higher than it was in 2023 (.747 vs .734). And of course, strikeouts are much higher now than they were then. Those two things make Larkin look a little worse. And pretty much any stat you want to find is going to put the two players roughly on par with each other through equivalent points in their careers. It helps that De La Cruz is younger.

I’m never a big fan of certainty when things aren’t certain. And I like context. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about how badly De La Cruz started and not much acknowledgement that he was 21, in the big leagues, and not a mess. He wasn’t Juan Soto or Bryce Harper, but almost no one is at that age. Almost no Hall of Famers are that good at that age. Barry Larkin certainly wasn’t.

No, I don’t think he is the next Larkin. Or maybe he is. I don’t know. NO ONE KNOWS. I know he has a mountain of talent. I know he destroyed the minor leagues. And I know he started his career with stats that are very similar to the last shortstop to go into the Hall of Fame as a Red.

He might spend time in the minors. Or he might be like Larkin in his second full season and find himself at his first All-Star game. Young players are not fixed quantities. Everyone is different, and making declarations about what “has to happen” is silly.

I do think that the Reds declaring Elly De La Cruz the starting shortstop when they have plenty of options tells us something really valuable about what they think of his ability to learn and grow as a ballplayer. And like it or not, they have a lot more firsthand knowledge than we do.

So, as spring training starts, I encourage everyone to have an open mind and remember the last big time shortstop of have a rocky start at a young age for the Reds.

42 Responses

      • Thatthathadhad

        Aristides Aquino in his first 480 PA spread over three seasons had 31 HR and 78 RBI. And we all remember his record setting hot start in the bigs. He was quite a bit older than EDLC when he debuted.

    • Thatthathadhad

      Aristides Aquino in his first 480 PA spread over three seasons had 31 HR and 78 RBI. And we all remember his record setting hot start in the bigs. He was quite a bit older than EDLC when he debuted.

  1. Jonathan

    Finally a voice of reason. I have been getting tired of the “ELDC sucks and should be sent down” type of thinking. Compared to other 21 year olds, he has held his own.

    • Tom Reeves

      Exactly – we don’t know. But, I think it will be very exciting to find out.

  2. Ahimsa

    I will never forget him stealing 2nd, 3rd, and home. Really fun player to watch/root for.

    • Reaganspad

      I have never seen a hitter ground to the first baseman and then beat the first baseman to the bag. Turning outs into singles in a way no one else can.

      He has done a lot of amazing things, but this one will stick in my memory. Nobody has the speed to do that, but also, how many times do you see the young star talent just jog to first base and accept the out?

      • Oldtimer

        Vada Pinson did it early in his Reds career.

      • greenmtred

        I think, but don’t know, that Billy Hamilton did it. Billy took 2nd and 3rd on a pick-off attempt. Not taking anything away from Elly.

  3. CFD3000

    In terms of raw tools EDLC could be a future Hall of Famer, likely surpassing Larkin on the power side. But. The game has changed and in many ways hitting is harder now than ever. Can Elly learn real plate discipline? Will he be able to focus enough on his defense to make all the routine plays day after day after day? Will he stay healthy playing at such a fast, intense pace? The uncertainty is so… uncertain.

    Remember Kurt Stillwell? The Reds and many fans weren’t even sure that Larkin would be better than Stillwell, let alone almost every other shortstop ever. So guessing now whether EDLC will turn out to be Barry Larkin good, or just Kurt Stillwell good is fun but not obvious at all. So let’s give the kid a chance. Maybe many chances. And let’s hope he does mature into the next Reds superstar. I think it’s going to be fun to watch and find out.

    • Stock

      I think it is very obvious. He will be better than Larkin.

      • Justin T

        Obvious how? Larkin had pedigree and moved like a leader even at a young age. His skills were developed much more than EDLC at this stage. He put the bat on the ball much more consistently. Larkin played high level high school and college baseball as well as an Olympian.

        Not sure why a little concern bothers people so much, are we supposed to just all think he is a sure-fire hall of famer? I think he has a chance to be spectacular but he looked overmatched at the end of the season. He needs time to develop and we are all watching him try to figure it out at the highest level. He is very tall and there are alot of mechanics involved in a swing when you are that tall. The worst thing that can happen for the young man is crowning him the way alot of fans have, only adds pressure.

        This fanbase needs to see winning baseball more than ever in my lifetime. The arguments over potential and philosophy are mind numbing. The kid struck out nearly half the time in August and Sept (half of his young career) and we are
        debating his hall of fame case already. Let him develop and if need be, send him down as long as needed. Stop reacting and be more proactive. Do right by the player. This is an “is what it is” situation more than any other situation the Reds currently have.

  4. MBS

    EDLC is going to be really good. The Reds have been forced to bring up guys early, so we’re watching more development at the major league level than you’d hope for. I’m thinking this year will be a very good one for EDLC.

  5. LDS

    I hoping more for prime Eric Davis but would “settle” for Barry Larkin. Lots of potential but I have little confidence in the Reds organization. Not a lot of success stories in their recent history. And before everyone jumps on that comment, McLain etc., one season doesn’t count. Show me sustained results.

    • Old Big Ed

      Yeah, for about a year and a half in 1986 and 1987, Davis was Hall-of-Fame level and then some. Peak Eric Davis was better than peak Barry Larkin, but Davis couldn’t sustain it.

      The Reds did develop Joey Votto.

      I think their problem from after the Bruce/Votto crop to this present bunch was more of a scouting problem than a development problem. They didn’t draft well or sign any good Latin hitters; they were in fact awful at it. Over the past 6 year or so, they’ve done much better in scouting, and we’ll find out soon how good they are at development.

      One promising thing from last year is that both CES and Rece Hinds made huge strides in controlling the strike zone. CES was held back at AAA and asked to manage the strike zone better, which he did and got promoted.

      Rece Hinds transformed himself completely. Through June 8, he hit .208 and had 5 HRs in 206 PAs, with a strikeout rate of 42.7% and a walk rate of only 4,4%. From June 9 forward, which included a short IL stint, Hinds hit .323 and had 18 HR in 255 PAs, with a strikeout rate of 24.7% and a walk rate of 9.8%. Hinds went from a career on the precipice to an easy decision to put on the 40-man, although he obviously he needs to continue his progress.

      Daryle Ward was/is the Chattanooga hitting coach and reportedly worked tirelessly with Hinds. He moved Hinds closer to the plate and lowered his hands a bit. Hinds has a nice short stroke, with power to all fields, and it seemed to work.

      They never were able to make this kind of progress with Jose Siri.

  6. Mark Moore

    Thanks for this perspective, Doug. I see EDLC as a “generational player” with a unique talent set. As has been noted, he was pretty gassed by the end of the 2023 season. With some rest and the adjustments we’ve heard about, 2024 is something to look forward to. I’m fine with him at SS as well. I’d prefer to see him a 3B with MattyMc at SS as I think that’s the best defensive alignment we can field, but that’s not going to happen right now.

    Everybody’s in Goodyear and games start in a week. That’s something to cheer about.

    • Jason Linden

      I’ve said this a million times, but I’m going to keep saying it. McLain plays second not because he’s worse than Elly (I think the jury is out on who is actually the better SS), but because he’s so much better defensively than India. McLain, Elly, and Candelario/Marte is much better defensively than India, McLain, and Elly

      • Optimist

        And I recall your comments last season about how well EDLC and McLain worked as the SS/2b combo in Louisville – this was after McLain went on the IL to end his season, and EDLC began committing noticeable errors with whoever else was in the infield.

        It’s a small thing, but playing familiarity improves everyone’s defense, and having an excellent defense will go a long, long way to reducing pitch counts and bullpen use. How many times did we watch them giving away outs, let alone adding pitches.

        Not having looked, but I wonder if anyone has studied the correlation between RF, or similar defensive metrics, and BABIP. It’s been a while since the Reds have had excellent defense, and most of us overlook that added value.

      • Mark Moore

        Jason,

        I meant best on the left side.

        MattyMc makes EDLC better at SS and those two up the middle is solid.

      • Justin T

        Its much more difficult (and important) to cater to shortstop than second base. If Mcclain is actually the rosters best shortstop but is playing second because India’s defense is bad, thats the most “Reds front office” thing ive ever seen. They pick and choose when to value defense. Stick a left fielder at third, a second baseman in left, a catcher in center and against righties switch it back the other way etc… but lets value second base defense so much that we will move our shortstop over there. The we will sign an infielder to a big contract, yet he cant play second base.

      • greenmtred

        I think the idea is that Elly, with better range and reach and a better arm, will be the better shortstop.

  7. Stock

    Not only was EDLC 21 last year but he lost a year of growth due to Covid. I can’t think of any player who missed a year due to Covid and was younger than EDLC when he reached the majors. The closest player I can think of is Gunnar Henderson who played his age 22 season last year and missed playing his age 21 season by 2 days.

    What EDLC has working for him:

    Work Ethic – you don’t go from an average player (maybe even below average) in the DSL to top 100 player in one season if you do not put a lot of work in. Most people probably took it easy in 2020. ELDC went from an ISO of .097 in the DSL to an ISO of .380 in the AZL. His OPS went from .733 to 1.335

    Baseball intelligence and/or Baseball instincts – People talk about Pete Rose’s work ethic and hustle all the time. What is rarely considered is his baseball intelligence. Two examples: 1. His ability to turn a single into a double. He understood the abilities of the fielder and rarely was thrown out at 2B. 2. Mickey Rivers was considered the catalyst of the Yankees in 1976. Not vs. the Reds. Pete Rose shut him down and got in his head. Now Back to EDLC. I have never seen a player steal 3B and home on the same play in the manner that EDLC did last year. I can’t help but feel that he knew when he was on 2B that he was going to steal home on the next play.

    Talent: Hardest throw by an infielder in the history of Statcast. Only player in baseball history with two HR in the same game with an exit velocity of at least 117 mph.

    My original projection for 2024 was: K% between 25% and 30%. Launch angle improved so he hits 35+ HR. BA about .250 and 60 – 75 SB.

    Now I hear he has been working out with the Reds hitting coach all winter and he has also been working out with Juan Soto.

    Revised projection: K% between 20% and 30%. I know this is a wide range but 20% – 25% seems like a pipe dream. 35+ HR, .250+ BA and 70-90 SB.

    He may very well join Acuna in the 40/70 club.

    • DaveCT

      EDLC at short stop is an absolute weapon. The ability to throw a strike across the plate at 99 mph from the cutoff spot in the outfield to nail a runner is a place in rarified air. PNot to mention it saves runs and helps win games.

    • Justin T

      Can we get him hitting .250 consistently first? Can we see how he reacts to pitchers having more of “a book” on him? The highlights seem to be driving peoples opinions of the young man and its not fair. He will steal home less than 10 times in his career. He will not always turn singles into doubles, big leaguers are simply too good to let that happen consistently. The ball will come in faster and more intentionally from the defense.

      Hitting the baseball consistently will keep him thriving and he has struggled with it in the small sample size we have.

  8. Melvin

    Great talent. Never questioned that. While I think he’ll make a pretty good SS I still think he’d make an even better CF.

  9. Jason Mossman

    Just reported McClain out with an oblique issue. For all of those questioning the Candelario move as being a waste of $ and redundant, I am not sure in this day and age of injuries there is such a concern anymore as depth is vital even if it looks like overkill ‘on paper’.

    • Reaganspad

      McClain? No big deal.

      McLain would be problematic

    • Justin T

      Hindsight is 20/20. The signing made no sense at the time and since its week 1 of ST we still dont know what will or wont work out. If the infielders are all healthy and your corner outfielders are hitting .200 in June we are having a different discussion. It’s too early to tell.

      • BK

        Many cited depth to cover injuries in their explanations for liking the Candelario signing. That’s an example of foresight not hindsight.

  10. MK

    I have no doubt that Elly will be an outstanding player, his tools are off the chart. He is also a good reason as a fan to go watch a game. I wonder if some of the reason for announcing him as the shortstop was a wish from management to create early season excitement to sell more tickets.

    • Justin T

      Are you insinuating this organization values money and “yes men” over player development and winning?? No way.

  11. Oldtimer

    Player C batted .271 his first two (full) seasons.

    Player D batted .260 his first two seasons.

    Player E batted .265 his first 3 seasons (2 cups of coffee).

    Player F batted .254 his first 2 full seasons.

    Player G batted .231 his first two full seasons.

    Player H batted .222 his first three (full) seasons.

    Player C is #14. Player D is Bench. Player E is Morgan. Player F is Perez. Player G is Foster. Player H is Concepcion.

  12. Indy Red Man

    I like the Elly from May last year that didn’t roll over from the left side, but hit choppers the other way instead and got on.

    Both parties are right. You see a kid with gifts like that and it’s ok to have big projections for his future, but also be realistic and expect growing pains. Batting 7th-8th vs lefties is ok if he’s still figuring them out