Why Tigers’ prospect who ‘can do everything’ believes he can be Detroit’s Manny Ramirez

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers had a runner on second base in extra innings of the team’s instructional league World Series in Lakeland, Florida.

Jose De La Cruz, an 18-year-old outfield prospect, stepped to the plate.

The message, relayed through a translator, from the coaching staff was for De La Cruz to drive the ball to right field and, at the least, advance the runner.

The team’s No. 25 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, pays attention to every word.

De La Cruz crushed the ball to right for a long flyout, allowing the runner to move to third base. Returning to the dugout, his teammates showered him with high-fives.

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“Just a physical kid that had five tools,” Tom Moore, Tigers director of international scouting, said Thursday about De La Cruz. “Can really do everything, impact the baseball like not many kids at that age. He was a kid, early on, that was on the radar.”

De La Cruz, signed from the Dominican Republic via a $1.8 million bonus) in July 2018, got his first taste of professional baseball in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, when he hit .307 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs in 56 games. He was poised to take his talents to the U.S., where the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers awaited him.

De La Cruz didn’t advance up the farm system as planned.

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to stay in the Dominican Republic for seven months, without organized baseball, before he got to Lakeland in October for the Tigers’ instructional league camp which ends in early November. 

Without the Tigers’ programs or competition, De La Cruz played pick-up games in the Dominican. A group of players would get together four or five times each week and split up into teams. He had a physical trainer with him, so he focused on transforming his body. And he practiced each day at a field near his home.

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“I was ready,” De La Cruz said of coming to the instructional league. “I prepared myself during the offseason, just to be ready to play down here. … I worked with my trainer on what type of food I should eat. From time to time, I broke the (food rules), but I got back on track preparing my physical condition.”

His work paid dividends. De La Cruz is at 214 pounds and 14% body fat. With his height, 6-foot-1, he looks the part of a big leaguer.

From an on-field standpoint, however, he is still learning to adjust to better pitching in the instructional league. 

“That’s going to lead me to be a good major-league hitter,” De La Cruz said. “Pitchers are pitching us more carefully, given that in the wink of an eye, we can hit a home run or hit them very hard. It’s a challenge to be selective and focus on my strike zone.”

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De La Cruz grew up following Manny Ramirez, a two-time World Series champion and 12-time All-Star, as do many kids in the Dominican Republic.

He hopes his bat someday leads him to the majors — similar to Ramirez in 1993.

“He swung the bat all the time,” De La Cruz said. “He was consistent, and I loved the way he saw all the pitches. He’s been my idol since I was a kid.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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