Rancho Cucamonga, California —— Much of this weekend’s focus on the site has been on one San Diego Padres catcher: prospect Austin Allen, who I spoke at length with about his stellar 2017 season with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League. And while Allen is deserving of a lot of attention as a prospect to watch behind the plate (or at first base) going forward, there’s another Padres farmhand putting in very good catching work in Lake Elsinore right now: Wilfri De La Cruz.
A 23-year-old Dominican who skipped over Low-A Fort Wayne entirely this year when he joined the Storm at the start of July, this past week was my first look at Wilfri De La Cruz. To put it bluntly, he’s a flatly unimpressive organizational depth option in virtually every other area of his game except for his nuanced work behind the plate. And to that end, his feel for receiving, framing, and blocking is so advanced for this level that it could be his carrying tool to a very long career in professional baseball.
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I liked the San Diego Padres farmhand so much that I made it a point to put together a catching video on him this week. You should watch that video, right below, so you can see what I’m talking about when I say Wilfri De La Cruz is a phenomenal receiver with advanced, nuanced feel for the strike zone:
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At 23 years old, he’s right on pace to be in High-A right now, and while everything else about his overall game is average at best, or unimpressive at worst, Wilfri De La Cruz is going to get a chance to play this game for a long, long time because of how he receives pitches behind the plate. Perhaps it’ll be at best as a fringe up-and-down big leaguer, or an upper minors organizational depth piece, but a good feel for manipulating the strike zone and an active, athletic bounce behind the plate that is belied by his overall below-average athleticism is a critical feather in his cap that bodes well for the future.
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The greater baseball community is somewhat divided on pitch framing, at least in how it exists as a measurable stat; some have seen it as the future, while others have long been predicting a decline in its importance, at least as a quantifiable metric. Either way, fine. But talk to a pitching staff about throwing to a guy like Wilfri De La Cruz, who’s active and engaged on every pitch behind the plate with exceptional situational awareness and concentration, and intent on stealing as many strikes as possible; my hunch is that he’s a very popular catcher with his pitchers. Further development of his receiving skills and more nuance in his framing over time will only continue to help that. Don’t expect a future star or frontline prospect, but if Wilfri De La Cruz plays professional baseball for another decade-plus and maybe even gets a shot in The Show because of his soft hands, don’t be surprised, either.
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