A late start to today’s installment of “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, but that’s certainly not due to a lack of consideration for today’s player. Rather it was caused by an extreme case of exhaustion on the part of yours truly after a long night Wednesday into Thursday. If you’d like some proof, go look at when the Michael Fiers article was posted and then added an hour or so onto that for my bed time.
Enough about me. That’s not why you’re here.
You’re here because being 63 days away from Opening Day on April 6, 2012 means you get to read about a pitching prospect that logged big league time in 2011 while wearing jersey number 63.
That man is none other than Eulogio (pronounced ay-oo-low-HEE-yo) De La Cruz.
You may be saying to yourself “Eulogio? I remember a Frankie De La Cruz, but not this other guy.” Both men are listed at 5’10” and 215 pounds. Both will be 28 years old by Opening Day. Both hail from the Dominican Republic. Lots of similarities, wouldn’t you agree? Well, as Mac McGrath once said about Babe Bennett and Pam Dawson, “They are, in fact, one in the same.”
Frankie De La Cruz has logged big league innings with four different teams in the four years he’s been on a big league roster. Originally with Detroit, he was traded to the Marlins organization as a part of the Miguel Cabrera deal. After exhausting his final minor league option, he was traded from Florida to San Diego in March of 2009. De La Cruz was then designated for assignment by the Padres just over a month later after the Padres had to call up a starting pitcher (Chad Gaudin) to cover some injuries.
After spending the 2010 season pitching in Japan, De La Cruz signed a minor-league contract with the Brewers prior to the 2011 season. He wound up pitching in 11 games for Milwaukee, allowing four earned runs over 13.0 innings pitched. His major issue in previous big league stints, walking batters, didn’t flare up as much with Milwaukee. He “only” walked five while allowing 10 hits. It worked out to a 1.15 WHIP and clearly aided him in compiling a 2.77 ERA.
What the future holds for De La Cruz as a member of the Brewers organization is something of a mystery, however. He is out of minor league options and the Brewers have a number of bullpen arms returning to the team after being out with injuries in 2011.
Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, and Brandon Kintzler all stand to have a shot to head north as a part of the Brewers bullpen. Parra is out of options also, but Braddock and Kintzler both could be optioned down if Doug Melvin decides that depth is a focus.
It may seem like the numbers game isn’t set up to work in the favor of De La Cruz, but he has an opportunity to pitch his way to Miller Park this spring. If I had to formulate a guess as to the bullpen right now, it’d be John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe, Parra, Marco Estrada and José Veras all making the team for sure.
The departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to parts out west opens up a couple of jobs, but De La Cruz is hardly guaranteed of a spot. He was left off of the post season roster last year, after all, and only has a total of 32.0 innings pitched over his career.
Working in his favor are a fastball and curveball that once lead to a #6 ranking in the Detroit Tigers prospects list by Baseball America. These pitches haven’t developed as dominatingly as some no doubt hoped when he was labeled as a future big-league closer, but the raw stuff is still there somewhere.
Bottom line for De La Cruz is that despite relatively effective appearances for the Brewers in 2011 after being called up to replace an injured Chris Narveson on the roster, nothing is close to guaranteed for FDLC going into 2012.
He’ll have to pitch well from the jump in order to force his way back onto the 25-man roster. Is it doable? Certainly. Is it likely? That remains to be seen once the mitts start popping in Maryvale on February 20th.