Jasseel De La Cruz has made his first venture to the big league club, with the 23 year old right handed pitcher receiving a major league call up earlier today. De La Cruz has been around the system for awhile, first debuting as an 18 year old in 2015 in his home in the Dominican Republic. His numbers weren’t great but he was moved stateside to the Gulf Coast League after a season and a half in the Dominican Summer League and he finished off the end of 2016 with 15 scoreless innings in Orlando. He was called to briefly repeat the level in 2017, now aged 20, and he dominated in his four starts with a 1.89 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 19 innings to earn himself a call up to Danville. De La Cruz struggled in Danville with a 5.32 ERA in 23 2⁄3 innings and with that came into 2018 with little fanfare as he made his full season debut in Rome. Jasseel blossomed in Rome, and quickly put himself on the map through April as he posted a 1.99 ERA in 22 2⁄3 innings while striking out 24 batters and walking eight. An injury side tracked his season after this and he wasn’t quite the same guy after coming back a month and a half later, but he frequently flashed potential interspersed with rough outings and finished with a 4.83 ERA in 69 innings with 65 walks to 34 strikeouts.
2019 was the real breakout campaign for Jasseel, as he stayed healthy throughout the season and showed early in the season he was a legitimate prospect in the system. He only needed four starts in Rome, during which he had a 2.50 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 18 innings, to prove he deserved a call up to Florida in late April. De La Cruz started by making three solid starts for Florida, going 19 innings with a 2.84 ERA and 22 strikeouts to five walks. This brought him to his May 18th, where he put up the performance of his career for the Fire Frogs. De La Cruz threw a nine-inning, solo no hitter for the Fire Frogs, completing the feat in just 89 pitches as he led them to a 12-0 win. Through his first eight starts De La Cruz had a 2.15 ERA and 48 strikeouts to 12 walks in 46 innings and the Braves were aggressive with him and immediately pushed him to Double-A Mississippi for the remainder of the season. He was decent across his 13 starts in Mississippi with a 3.83 ERA and he flashed potential on multiple occasions including a 10 strikeout performance across 6 innings on July 7th. He finished with a 1.83 ERA over his final four starts and came into 2020 with a chance to truly put himself in the running for a future rotation spot before the season took a turn.
De La Cruz is among the most talented arms in the system, though he’s yet to approach that or really consistently show it in the minor leagues. He starts off with a lively four seam fastball that he can run up to 98mph in short stints, and he gets a nasty arm side bite at his best. He worked hard in 2019 on pounding the zone more often with the pitch and it led to him being much more efficient than he had at any previous point in his career, though he did see a bit of a drop off in strikeouts. De La Cruz uses the movement on his fastball to get high ground ball rates as well and is one of the better pitchers in the Braves system at forcing soft contact and avoiding home runs.
He backs up the fastball with a sharp slider that is his go to breaking ball, and with those two pitches he already has the makings of a late inning reliever. The slider consistently shows above average to plus movement and velocity, though like most of his arsenal he still lacks command with it. The slider is a menace on right handed batters and he is able to force swings and misses on a regular basis. I’d grade his slider as easily the best slider in the system and maybe the best breaking ball altogether and it really projects to play well in the major leagues right away.
The changeup for De La Cruz is the major sticking point as it still hasn’t progressed to the point to give much confidence he will remain as a starter. He’s showed feel for the pitch and is deceptive in his delivery of it, but he’s wildly inconsistent with location and velocity and he needs to tighten it up or find another option to give him a pitch to combat left handed batters more effectively. It has flashed average or better on a few occasions, and that’s usually when we see him start to roll and have good games, but it’s not consistent enough to be a reliable major league offering at this point. With the lack of a third pitch and a jerky and difficult-to-repeat delivery it’s unlikely that De La Cruz will end up in a starting rotation long term, but his raw stuff and the power in his arm is tantalizing and the Braves will want to give him a chance for as long as they can. De La Cruz doesn’t have great command and probably never will, but he’s made some strides in locating his fastball despite his delivery and the sheer movement on the pitch. He attacks and stays around the zone so he throws enough strikes to not walk the world, and his stuff is effective enough that even when he makes mistakes he can often avoid explosive outcomes.
This will likely be no more than a sip of major league action for De La Cruz, especially with Cole Hamels on the horizon, but it is a nice opportunity to evaluate his progress and see more how his command and stuff will play at the major league level. He’s got all the talent and I’m higher on his rotation potential than most you will see, but he still has major shortcomings that prevent him from being a rotation piece today. The good news for Jasseel is his attacking mentality that keeps him around the zone and keeps him efficient with his pitches and forcing weak contact so even when he struggles he often works deep into games. He’s an intriguing prospect and one most haven’t heard of, but this should be a nice preview for a guy who is likely to be truly ready sometime in the middle to late parts of 2021.