ROME, GA — Jasseel De La Cruz is off to a hot start for the Rome Braves. Despite picking up the loss in Wednesday’s series finale against Charleston, he put up yet another impressive performance.
The Atlanta Braves signed De La Cruz out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 as a raw 18-year-old right-hander. In a matter of three seasons, that’s all changed. While De La Cruz still has some room to grow, he is leaps and bounds improved from the early reports.
De La Cruz is still pretty lanky, so now just 20, he could continue to fill out his frame. That will add to the continued uptick in velocity on his stuff. Right now, he stands at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds and looks very much like it. He controls his frame very well and has a good command of the strike zone.
The righty stands on the first base side of the mound. When the bases are empty, he works pretty quickly. His delivery is quick and at times a little herky-jerky. There is no defined leg kick, but he does have a bit of a quick pump before he plants. He has a solid follow through and he seems to throw relatively easy, his arm not appearing to use a lot of effort.
The earliest reports on De La Cruz were that he struggled to hold both his command and velocity deep into games. Neither of those were the case Wednesday afternoon on a perfect day for baseball in Rome. De La Cruz went five solid innings.
His fastball sat 93-94 for the entire outing, touching 95 most of the time in the early going. It is a dangerous pitch to right-handers with some nice run to it as well. His slider is nasty. It bites hard and can swoop across the plate or break with curve-like action. I saw it hit 81-83 and as high as 87. The changeup was his most seldom-used pitch but seemed to have some nice fade and confuse hitters, landing around 86-89.
De La Cruz was simply dominant for his second-straight start. He came out firing, landing three first-pitch strikes to the four batters he faced in the first. De La Cruz dictates the tempo, firing at the zone and filling it with strikes. He threw 11 pitches in the first inning and seven were strikes. The four balls were to the same batter, as he issued one of his two walks. He mixed in a three-pitch strikeout, completely baffling the RiverDogs slugger Steven Sensley, around two quick, weakly-hit outs.
That was the story for De La Cruz all day. There was very little solid contact made on the righty, as he posted nine groundouts to just one fly out. His infield did him no favors as Derian Cruz committed two errors that proved costly. One thing De La Cruz could improve on is covering first, but this may have been a lapse in attention and a rare occasion. Still, it led to an error on Derian Cruz who threw it to first when De La Cruz was still several steps from where he should have been.
De La Cruz needed just 68 pitches to get through his five innings, leaving the game trailing 1-0 on an unearned run. He landed a remarkable 48 pitches for strikes or 70.5-percent of his pitches, striking out six and walking two. He now has 14 strikeouts and three walks over his first ten innings in his first run through full-season ball. Not bad for a guy who used to struggle with command. The velocity never wavered, and if it was later in the season, he likely had another inning or maybe two on his day.
Simply put, De La Cruz was impressive. He appears to be coming into his own, ready to take the next step from questionable starter to a front-end of the rotation arm. He has a long way to go, and with the Braves’ pitching depth, they have little reason to rush him. His development will be intriguing as he could pitch himself into the Braves Top 20 by midseason.
(One last look at De La Cruz. His delivery is clearly different with runners on, but he does not struggle landing strikes. all videos courtesy of The Minor League Prospect Video page.)