Socking homers at record rates, swiping bags with precision rarely seen, and switching teams mid-year and failing to miss a beat - those are the characteristics that Elly De La Cruz and Christian Encarnacion-Strand had on full display during their minor league season.
Their exploits did not go unnoticed, either. MLB Pipeline named both to their Prospect Team of the Year on Thursday, with Elly making the first team and CES landing on the second.
De La Cruz shuttled between High-A Daytona and AA Chattanooga on his way to socking 28 homers and swiping 47 bags, showing the kind of elite bat speed and athleticism in his 6’5” frame that made him one of the breakout stars of the 2021 MiLB campaign, too. He whacked High-A pitching with a .968 OPS in 73 games, and followed that right up by thwacking AA pitching with a .910 OPS in 47 more. All told, he established himself as one of the few true five-tool talents in the game when factoring in his ability to play shortstop, and is firmly on the radar for the big league Cincinnati Reds during the 2023 campaign.
Encarnacion-Strand, meanwhile, didn’t just deal with the jump from High-A to AA in 2022, he switched organizations entirely. As one of the main pieces in the deal that sent Tyler Mahle from Cincinnati to Minnesota, CES joined the Cincinnati farm with AA Chattanooga after mashing 25 homers between High-A Cedar Rapids and AA Wichita, and he kept right on socking for the Lookouts. He blasted 7 more there to bring his season total to 32, posting a well-rounded .874 OPS in his 35 games played there.
Elly was the 1st team shortstop while CES was the 2nd team 3B, for the record, though it’s interesting to note just how much the two played elsewhere during their 2022 seasons. CES split time at both corners while DHing frequently, while Elly split time between 3B and short all year, too. Their versatility paired with the similarly versatile Noelvi Marte and Spencer Steer, among others, will be key to digging the Reds out of the NL Central cellar and putting them back in contention for relevance as the rebuild hopefully, hopefully turns into a build.
Congrats to both on the high honor!