5 reasons why Elly De La Cruz won't make the Reds Opening Day roster

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz at SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz at SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages
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Everyone throughout Reds Country is excited about Elly De La Cruz. And why not? The Cincinnati Reds top prospect is electrifying and nearly every baseball expert predicts that De La Cruz will become a star.

De La Cruz is probably the most exciting young player to come up through the Reds farm system since Jay Bruce. De La Cruz has the potential to be a five-tool player at the next level.

But, De La Cruz is far from a finished product. While an overwhelming majority of the Cincinnati faithful would love to see the shortstop prospect on the Reds Opening Day roster, it's not going to happen. Let's look at five reasons why Elly De La Cruz will not be part of the 26-man roster that breaks camp.

1. Reds prospect Elly De La Cruz has not played above Double-A.

First, let's look at the most obvious reason that Elly De La Cruz will not be part of the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster. De La Cruz, while wildly talented, is still very inexperienced. The 21-year-old has yet to even make it to Triple-A.

Yes, it's true that not every major league player needs to climb the minor league ladder the same way. Heck, Reds fans saw Jonathan India promoted to Cincinnati's 2021 Opening Day roster and win NL Rookie of the Year without setting foot in Triple-A. But that's more the exception than the rule.

While Double-A has become a bit more of a proving ground of sorts in recent years, the top pitchers in the minor leagues still reside in Triple-A. It's oftentimes where pitchers who are on the cusp of the big leagues go until they're called upon due to injury or they're finally deemed "ready for The Show".

Elly De La Cruz, while dominant at Double-A last season, could still use at least a few more months in the minors before making the jump. Look for the Cincinnati Reds to send De La Cruz to Triple-A to begin the season, and don't be shocked if he actually starts the 2023 season back at Double-A Chattanooga.

2. The Reds should give Jose Barrero one last chance at shortstop.

While no one knows who will the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day shortstop when the 2023 season gets underway, it's a slam dunk that it won't be Elly De La Cruz. While the team's top prospect might be the most talented of the middle infielders on the roster, the Reds' shortstop depth will keep De La Cruz from breaking camp with the club.

In addition to De La Cruz, the Reds have veteran shortstop Kevin Newman on the 40-man roster. Jose Barrero, Noelvi Marte, and Spencer Steer all have varying experience at shortstop as well, though it would seem as though the Reds are focused on both Marte and Steer seeing time at the hot corner.

Heading into camp, while De La Cruz will surely see time at shortstop, the Opening Day starter will ultimately come down to a two-horse race between Newman and Barrero. In fact, Barrero should be given every opportunity to win the job outright during spring training.

Barrero was given an extended look at shortstop last summer and fell flat on his face. At one time the Reds top prospect, Barrero looked lost at the plate after being called up in early-August. Barrero, along with hitting coach Joel McKeithan, has worked on correcting his batting stance and shortening his swing.

The Cincinnati Reds owe it to themselves to see what they've got in Jose Barrero, If after the first two months of the 2023 season it's discovered that Barrero's just not able to hit at the major league level, then perhaps it's time for a changing of the guard. But Cincinnati would be crazy to give up on Barrero after just 282 major league at-bats.

3. The Reds may want to move Elly De La Cruz to the outfield.

This is a sore subject for a lot of Reds fans, but among the national pundits, the idea has merit. While Elly De La Cruz has the tools to play shortstop at the major league level, a majority of scouts think he's too big to play the position.

De La Cruz is huge! While listed at 6-foot-5, there are reports that he's even bigger than that. It's rare that you see shortstops that tall. Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the 6-foot-7 Oneil Cruz, but the same questions exist about his ability to stick at the position over the long haul.

One position that the Reds have failed to develop recently has been center field. Since Billy Hamilton was non-tendered in 2018, the Reds have tried a variety of different players in center and it just hasn't worked out.

Heading into spring training, there are three legitimate candidates who could open the season in center field for the Reds. Michael Siani, Nick Senzel, and Stuart Fairchild will all be competing for a spot on the 26-man roster, and with all things being equal, Senzel will probably get the nod if he's healthy.

Reds fans have a bad taste in their mouths after watching the highly-touted Senzel flounder upon his promotion to the majors after switching from third base to center field. Of course it's a bit risky for Cincinnati to move Elly De La Cruz off of shortstop, but as mentioned before, the team's depth at the position affords them the ability to do so.

4. Reds prospect Elly De La Cruz needs to cut down on his strikeouts.

About 10 years ago, a player with Elly De La Cruz's strikeout numbers would still be navigating how to make the leap from A-Ball to Double-A. De La Cruz posted a 30.8% strikeout-rate between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga last season.

However, despite the high number of Ks, De La Cruz still posted a wRC+ of 150 according to FanGraphs. That's a quick way to make folks forget about 158 strikeouts in 471 at-bats. But the fact remains, that numbers got to come down.

Jose Barrero, who so many Reds fans chastise because of his nearly 40.0% strikeout-rate in the big leagues last season, didn't see near that many K's in the minors. During his breakout 2021 season (between Double-A and Triple-A), Barrero posted a meager K-rate of just 22.1%.

Now, that's not to say that De La Cruz will suffer the same fate as Barrero once he reaches the big leagues, but the bottom line is that competition at the major league level is the best of the best. If De La Cruz is posting a strikeout-rate north of 30.0% in the minors, it'll likely higher in the majors.

Elly De La Cruz has all the tools and intangibles to make a lot of things happen on the field. But he's going down on strikeouts once every three at-bats, his production will be serverly limited. There's very few flaws in De La Cruz's game, but the high number of strikeouts is certainly one of them.

5. The Reds shouldn't waste a year of service time just to get Elly De La Cruz in the lineup.

Yes, we've all seen it before. But if Major League Baseball and the Player's Association failed to really address the problem during the last collective bargaining agreement, you had better believe that teams (especially small market clubs like the Cincinnati Reds) are going to continue to manipulate service time.

Use whatever word you'd like - unfair, manipulative, sneaky, underhanded, etc. However, at the end of the day, baseball is a business. And manipulation of service time can be a wise decision on the part of several major league clubs.

Fans saw the Reds manipulate Nick Senzel's service time before calling him up to the big leagues. Rather than add Senzel to the 2019 Opening Day roster, the club went with Scott Schebler as the center fielder that year.

Senzel ended up injuring his ankle later in spring training, but the decision to start their top prospect at Triple-A had already been made. Then, after Schebler struggled mightily and Senzel began to rehab his injury, it miraculously took the former first-rounder a mere eight games to prove himself in the minors.

Almost every fan knows that Cincinnati Reds are not going to be very competitive in 2023. So why start Elly De La Cruz's service time clock before the team could actually benefit from it? It may be a bit deceitful, but it's a smart business decision.

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