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Braves MiLB prospect recap: Jasseel De La Cruz

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Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Jasseel De La Cruz was one of the top pitching prospects in the system at the beginning of 2021, but a nightmare season has his future with the Braves in question. He may already have run out of time as a starter but his ceiling is still high and he could be a comeback candidate for 2022.

Midseason Report Card: Talking Chop has rated Jasseel De La Cruz highly for a couple of years now, but his struggles in 2021 couldn’t be ignored. He came in at 21st on the midseason list and has not done anything to help his stock since.

2021 stats: (Triple-A): 20 G, 1-3, 7.09 ERA, 56 1/3 IP, 33 BB, 55 K, 8 HR, 1.704 WHIP

Jasseel De La Cruz put up a breakout season in 2019 and with his spot on the 40-man roster locked in, he seemed destined to make an impact at the major league level. He was even called up to the big league squad but never made his debut and set forth on a nightmare season that has derailed his rapid ascent to the top of the minor leagues. As a 20 year old in 2017 De La Cruz was kicking around in Rookie ball still, but an injury-riddled but successful 2018 season preceded a 2019 that saw him throw a no-hitter and get all the way to Double-A. This gave many hope for another breakout campaign and the early results were solid. Through 6 games he was phenomenal with 17 ⅓ innings pitched, a 3.12 ERA, and 21 strikeouts to only four walks. Then the wheels fell off and injuries mounted and by the end of the season a regression in his stuff and command had his impact year turned into a lost one. Over the final 14 games of the season he allowed a .934 OPS and had 29 walks to 34 strikeouts. He missed a month after a mid-August injury and came back looking rusty to end the season in the bullpen.

Outlook: The Braves non-tendered De La Cruz ahead of Tuesday’s deadline which is a massive crash from him being a top 10 prospect in the system at the beginning of the season. One can only speculate on his injury problems this year, but as an undersized starter with a violent delivery and a history of shoulder troubles there is reason to be concerned. His long-term viability as a starter is seriously in question and it may already be that he is a full time reliever. For De La Cruz the offseason is about getting healthy, and hopefully in 2022 he can regain his form from the prior years. He lost the crispness on his fastball and slider, and that regression in stuff coupled with faltering command led to a bad season. Both could be symptoms of lingering shoulder issues, and once healthy it’s possible we see a return to the upper 90’s fastball with sharp run and the wipeout slider that made him such a tantalizing prospect. His best role is likely as a reliever, where he has late inning potential if he can round back into form.