Elly De La Cruz and Oneil Cruz are must-see TV

If you’re surveying the baseball landscape for games to watch, I have a pretty good idea of how the process should go for tonight. If your favorite team is playing well, you’re probably going to watch them first. Other than that, if you’re going to pay attention to any baseball game that doesn’t involve your favorite team for the next couple of days then your eyes should be locked in for what’s going on in Cincinnati this week.

At first glance, a matchup between two 37-41 teams in what is collectively the most mediocre division in baseball doesn’t seem like much to write home about. It’s especially the case when you consider that the Cincinnati Reds have only been to the Postseason four times since 2010 and won a grand total of two games in those appearances while the Pittsburgh Pirates only made it three years in a row from 2013 through 2015 and also won a grand total of two playoff games during that span. There hasn’t been much of a reason to pay attention to these two clubs and they haven’t really given anybody a real reason to pay attention to them outside of the occasional insane-looking brawl.

That changes this week, as we’ve now got two very good reasons to tune in to this series: Elly De La Cruz and Oneil Cruz. One of my favorite things about baseball is that despite the everyday nature of the sport, there’s always a chance that if you tune in or go to the ballpark then you’re going to see something that you’ve never seen before. It’s true for any game, it’s especially true when any one of De La Cruz or Cruz is playing in the game and it only doubles when both of them are going to be sharing the same field for at least two-and-a-half hours for the next couple of nights.

While Elly’s exploits on the diamond have been widely documented right here on SB Nation, it’s somewhat understandable that Oneil Cruz’s action has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle when it comes to the Pirates. After all, Bryan Reynolds is still the face of the franchise over there, Andrew McCutchen has returned to wear the only uniform that he’s looked completely right in (outside of maybe these throwback Phillies uniforms) and Paul Skenes has exploded onto the MLB scene and has quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the mound. While this hasn’t translated to the Pirates winning ballgames on a regular basis, it’s not completely boring to keep up with the Pirates nowadays.

However, Oneil Cruz is absolutely worth paying attention to because his highlight reel consists of stuff that is scarcely believable at times. This is the guy who currently holds the record for the hardest-hit ball in the Statcast Era of MLB at 122.4 mph and used to hold the record for the hardest throw from an infielder during the Statcast Era with a 97.8 mph laser that he uncorked as a rookie back in 2022. His arm strength is in the 99th percentile. His bat speed is in the 100th percentile, which naturally means that his Average Exit Velocity is also comically high, his Barrel percentage is just as lofty and his Hard-Hit percentage is in the same neighborhood. While he’s not up there with the real burners in terms of foot speed, his 87th-percentile Sprint Speed seems to indicate that he still blaze across the basepaths if needed.

Cruz is still in the process of putting all of these facets together in order to become a truly great baseball player but his potential is right there for everybody to see. It’s very difficult to figure out who has a higher ceiling than than Cruz and it’s one of many reasons why he doesn’t just have Pirates fans excited about any progress that he can make. If Oneil Cruz can realize his full potential at some point, it’ll be essentially as if a fully maxed-out create-a-player from the video games has come to life.

Millions of baseball fans have always dreamed of somehow becoming a physical force of nature who could run like the wind, throw harder than some pitchers and hit dingers nearly 500 feet while basically leaving a mark on everything else he hits. The difference between aspirational video gamers and Oneil Cruz is that he has the real and tangible chance to actually become what was always figured to be a digital wild dream for most fans.

Speaking of players who have ceilings that are higher than the Empire State Building, that’s where Elly De La Cruz came in. While there’s debate as to whether or not Oneil Cruz is the top star for the Pittsburgh Pirates, there’s no debate when it comes to the situation in Cincinnati. Elly De La Cruz is the man around there — whether we’re talking name recognition, highlights or production, Elly has got it all in spades.

As I alluded to in the aforementioned links to other articles about Elly De La Cruz, the guy just appears to be a sentient highlight reel. You want tape-measure home runs? He’s got em. You want Web Gems that would’ve made him a staple on Baseball Tonight? He’s got those, too. You want to see him tear up the basepaths? He’s got you on that as well. You want to see him do it all in the process of terrorizing the Dodgers? It’s funny you should ask because there’s video evidence of that as well.

What makes it so gratifying to watch Elly De La Cruz do the things that he does on a nightly basis is that it was plainly obvious from the moment that he showed up in Major League Baseball that he was capable of becoming this type of player. However, just like Oneil Cruz right now, it was also evident that he still needed to put it all together. After all, you can do plenty of amazing things on the field but it won’t particularly matter all that much if you’re hitting .235/.300/.410 with a .305 wOBA and only 89 wRC+, which is what he finished with in 2023 after playing 98 games. Heading into action on June 25, De La Cruz is now hitting .249/.342/.464 with a .352 wOBA and a wRC+ of 123. It’s clicking for him even when he’s not doing anything spectacular and his team leading fWAR of 3.3 is also proof that he hasn’t sacrificed any other portion of his game in order to improve in another facet.

He’s still stealing bases at an absurd clip — he’s already surpassed his stolen base total of 35 last season, he’s currently sitting on 37 stolen bags and the sky is the limit when it comes to how high that number can get. His defense has also improved as he’s no longer simply leaning on his prodigious arm strength. He’s currently in 95th percentile of fielders with an OAA of 6. He’s steadily turning into a complete baseball player, which should be exciting for both Reds fans when it comes to potentially turning the ship around in Cincinnati and it’s also exciting for us neutral fans since that just means he’s capable of doing something truly absurd no matter if he’s hitting, fielding or running the bases. Stuff that was figured to be impossible in the past is just part of another day at the ballpark for Elly De La Cruz.

Elly De La Cruz and Oneil Cruz may not be miracle workers who can drag their respective teams to the promised land but they’re both doing more than their fair share of the work in making their respective teams fun to watch. While Oneil Cruz is still in the process of showing quick glimpses of his potential, we’re starting to see Elly De La Cruz fully blossom into a real-deal superstar in baseball. Both of them will be on the same field this week when the Pirates and Reds face off with each other in Cincinnati. While these two teams may not command your attention, these two players certainly should.

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