UPDATE: Joe Rosario, Frankie De La Cruz' agent, got in touch with me after finding this post. He said that Frankie is and was a big time Brewers fan and had been wanting to play with the organization for a while now. He also said that Frankie is one of the nicest guys he's ever met. He gave me a rundown of his repertoire a bit as well: In addition to his big fastball and changeup, De La Cruz also throws a very good 12-6 curve and a hard 90-92 MPH slider. In addition, he picked up either a splitter or a cutter in Japan that has been very beneficial to him this year. Japan in general was a great experience for Eulogio, he learned a lot there and really settled in. He also said that Dick Groch--the Brewers Special Assistant to the G.M./Pro Scouting/Player Personnel--and Tom Flanagan--the Brewers director of baseball operations--are both big fans of De La Cruz and like his potential a lot. Another thing that was really interesting to me, and that Joe was very emphatic about, is that De La Cruz loves to pitch under pressure. He said if you were to ask De La Cruz himself or anyone who knows him, they would tell you he always says the more pressure the better. That's good to hear because, as I mention below, he'll be pitching in some pretty important games in the upcoming weeks and, likely, in September. Joe also told me that one of the reason's De La Cruz struggled some at the beginning of this year was because Rich Gale, the Sounds' pitching coach at the beginning of the year, was tinkering with his mechanics a lot and changing them up so De La Cruz couldn't get completely comfortable with them. After Gale resigned, De La Cruz stuck with one approach and it's obviously worked much better for him. One thing that Joe wanted me to mention was how to pronounce Eulogio's name: It's You-Low-Hio. It seems a lot of people can't quite get it right when pronouncing it (which is partially why he goes by Frankie). A fun fact Joe told me is that De La Cruz' nickname is "Pecho de paloma", which translates to Pigeon Chest. He got that name because of the way he pushes out his chest when he pitches, so that will be something to look forward to. Joe said that he thinks that De La Cruz can succeed in the majors and the big reason he hadn't in previous trials was because he didn't get a chance to pitch consistently. He emphasized how it's all about muscle memory and that De La Cruz sat on the bench for a while between appearances, which hurt him some. He said that he thinks the Brewers really like Eulogio, and it's clear that Eulogio is happy to be on the Brewers (he could have opted out of his contract and become a free agent on, I believe, June 10 but chose not to because he wanted to stay in the organization). Joe also said there is a chance I might be able to interview Eulogio at some point, but even if that doesn't come to fruition I really appreciate him getting in touch with me to give some more information on his client, who he says is like a little brother to him. A big thank you to Joe Rosario, and a huge "good luck" to Frankie De La Cruz.
By now, Brewers fans know that Chris Narveson sliced open his pitching hand while trying to fix his glove. I guess he didn't trust Milwaukee's equipment managers to properly cut it to his exacting specifications. Alas, that part is in the past and there isn't a whole lot that can be done about it. Narveson now has six stitches in his left hand and is on the 15 day DL.
Up in his place comes Eulogio "Frankie" De La Cruz, a 5'10", right handed, 27 year old out of the Dominican Republic. He was once a part of a pretty major deal: Back in 2007, he was traded along with Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, Dallas Trahern, and Mike Rabelo from the Tigers to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Of course, Maybin and Miller (as the Tigers top two prospects in 2007) were the center pieces to the deal, but De La Cruz was no throw-in. Going into 2007, De La Cruz was ranked the Tigers' 6th top prospect by Baseball America. After the trade, going into the 2008 season, he was ranked as the Marlins #8 prospect by John Sickels and was given a grade of a B-, which isn't bad at all.
I guess one could say that De La Cruz has some major league experience, though just barely. He's thrown in fifteen major league games, with just one of them being a start (in 2008, with the Marlins, he went three innings and gave up two earned runs on two hits and four walks). His overall major league stats aren't exactly pretty. He has a 5.21 K/9 compared to a 9.95 BB/9 which, gross. Of course, that led to a career 7.37 FIP and, unfortunately, an even worse 11.84 ERA. Make no bones about it, Frankie De La Cruz has never had success in the Major Leagues. Clearly, all small sample size caveats still apply so Frankie say relax about all that (I had to work it in somewhere).
If we were to look at his minor league numbers he obviously will look better. Overall: a 3.83 ERA, an 8.0 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, a 0.5 HR/9, and a 1.375 WHIP in 320 games (87 starts). In 2011: 23 starts, 3.88 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.409 WHIP. Despite being just 27 years old, De La Cruz is in his tenth season of professional baseball, including a stint with Yakult Swallows in Japan where he played in seven games last year and had a 7.84 ERA. Those seven games was the only pro ball he played since 2009 so, for all intents and purposes, he might as well have pulled a Jim Edmonds and took the year off. Edit: See Morineko's comment for more on De La Cruz' exploits in Japan.
His 2011 may be better than those numbers show, though. As Haudricourt pointed out, "De La Cruz leads all pitchers in the Pacific Coast League -- a notorious hitter's circuit -- with a .244 opponents batting average. His 12 quality starts also led Nashville." He also commented that De La Cruz leads the PCL with 13 wild pitches and is second with 63 walks.
What's really interesting about De La Cruz is his stuff. He's not like Chris Narveson, who tops out at around 88 MPH. Hell, he's not even like Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf or Shaun Marcum, who all top out at 92, 93, 88 and 87 MPH, respectively. No, De La Cruz can touch 100 MPH with his fastball and can apparently sit at mid 90's through the game. That's where he was at in 2009, at least, and I wouldn't expect him to have had a huge dropoff in the last couple years, not when he's still in his mid to late 20s. Look at quotes from the San Diego Padres after they purchased him from the Marlins. Bob Cluck, the Padres minor league pitching consultant at the time, said "He has a live arm". Kevin Towers, the Padres GM at the time, said "He has a big arm and a good change-up". Bud Black, the Padres manager, said "The reports are that he has a good power arm with good sink on his fastball".
Now, those were all members of an organization that had just acquired De La Cruz, so of course they are going to talk him up, but still, it sure does seem like De La Cruz has some pretty good stuff. Seemingly so good that it's strange he didn't have better results when he was coming up. It does make it clear why he was a fairly highly regarded prospect, though. I would love to give you more information about how he's pitched, but the pitch f/x information is pretty limited. So limited, that I have a whopping five to eight pitches to go on. From that, I could tell you he throws a fastball 75% of the time. I could tell you that he's never thrown a ball with his curveball or slider. Hell, even more so, every time he's thrown a curveball and slider, he's produced a swinging strike. Clearly none of those are accurate, though. And there aren't very many highlights of him to watch online, either. I've never seen him pitch in person. Right now, Frankie De La Cruz is an enigma. A well traveled enigma. You know he's got power and, according to some members of the 2009 Padres, good secondary stuff. But you also know he's never found success in the major leagues, and has never sparkled in the minor leagues. He's always had a high BB/9 and high WHIP, so maybe control is his problem? It would make sense as there are plenty of power pitchers who have high walk rates. Really, De La Cruz fits the mold of a power pitcher pretty well. Low HR rate, lot's of walks, and a fair amount of strikeouts. It's just never quite come together for him like it has for others.
I looked up to see what was said about De La Cruz when the Brewers picked him up as a free agent last offseason, but it seems as though we really haven't had a whole lot of discussion about him. There's even less if you search for "Eulogio De La Cruz". I don't think anyone expected him to play a significant role for the Brewers this year or in the future. The Brewers signed him to a collective yawn. He's pitched decently well in AAA to a collective yawn. Now, he's likely going to start multiple games--extremely important, late season, division race games. There's no more yawning. I guarantee that it feels like a big load to carry for De La Cruz and, to be blunt, it is. He's starting games for a first place team in mid to late August. That's an enormous pressure for Frankie to perform under.
The good news is that De La Cruz won't exactly be facing the National League's juggernauts if he ends up taking on the fifth starter role. There are no Phillies or Braves or Giants or Cardinals in the upcoming schedule. He'll face the Pirates, the Dodgers and, if he gets a third start, the Pirates again. That might make it easier but depending on what kind of person De La Cruz is, it might add pressure to perform in games the team is supposed to win.
Frankie De La Cruz has good "stuff" but for whatever reason hasn't been able to put it all together, especially not in the majors. He's had big control problems, he also has big time power. Who knows, maybe the Brewers have another player taking the Chris Narveson career path--Narveson was the #86 overall prospect going into 2002 according to Baseball America but found limited success before reviving his career with the Brewers. Narveson and De La Cruz are very different pitchers, but it's not unprecedented for Milwaukee and Doug Melvin to make useful pitchers out of guys who have been in similar situations to Frankie.
We'll have to wait and see. De La Cruz hasn't officially been named the starter yet, anyway, though it seems like it might be the most likely option. I'm not expecting him to pitch all that well, but considering the competition and the kind of stuff he has he could certainly surprise. I'm excited to see what he can do.
Welcome to Milwaukee, Frankie! We wish you nothing but the best!