Class AA

De la Cruz has had an 80-game lesson to learn

Oscar De la Cruz has returned after an 80-game suspension for using a banned substance and looked sharp in his season debut with the Tennessee Smokies, despite a loss. (photo by Mike Morrow)

Oscar De la Cruz’s past is not something to be proud of. His future may be a different story.

De la Cruz, ranked the No. 22 prospect in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system by MLB Pipeline, made his first start of the season on Sunday, pitching five innings for the Class AA Tennessee Smokies and giving up one run on only one hit in a 3-0 loss to Jackson. It was a good showing.

But it was his first outing because it marked his first game back from an 80-game suspension last season. De la Cruz was suspended in July for using Furosemide, a diuretic and masking agent, violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He had been 6-7 with a 5.24 ERA last season for Tennessee.

He was formally optioned to the Smokies in March, although he would have to miss the club’s first 24 games. Technically, De la Cruz had been pitching in organized baseball. A member of the Cubs’ 40-man roster, he was allowed an unpaid 15-day rehab period in the minors, pitching in three games for Myrtle Beach, getting a 1-0 record.

De la Cruz has been a curious case. He was originally a shortstop, signing with the Cubs in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic. He had actually become a good pitching prospect. He suffered injuries, including a forearm ailment, but he has been known to reach 97 mph with his fastball.

Just a year ago, Baseball America ranked De la Cruz the sixth best prospect in the Cubs’ minor league system, saying, “The Cubs won’t waste his bullets in the minors; if he stays healthy he’ll zoom to Wrigley Field.”

This year, Baseball America ranked him No. 21 in the Cubs’ system, saying, “Those who saw De la Cruz in 2018 still came away impressed with his stuff. Evaluators saw a fastball that sat in the low 90s but could reach as high as 96 when he needed a whiff.”

The publication labeled his 2019 season as “a bit of a wild card.” And it categorized him as a “very high risk” prospect. Among other concerns, there have been issues with his inconsistent arm angle with his pitches.

Players using performing-enhancing drugs are always baffling. The drug tests are well known and should be an effective deterrent needed for any player thinking of using banned substances. But the amount of money to be made if not caught can make it worth the risk to some players.

De la Cruz hasn’t been healthy, or responsible. The upside is that he is only 24 and the Cubs need to develop young pitchers. He is standing in a great spot for opportunity. Injuries, motion issues and an 80-game suspension will get you listed as a high risk prospect. Lively fastballs can cure a lot of ills and overcome some mistakes. How De la Cruz handles all those factors will be something to watch.

Categories: Class AA

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