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Oscar De La Cruz figures to start the year in the minors

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The 26-year-old was a prospect in the Cubs’ system but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues yet.

2021 New York Mets Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

One of many players to begin Mets spring training in major league camp, Oscar De La Cruz isn’t a well-known player. Back in early November, the right-handed pitcher was one of eleven players signed to minor league deals.

Having turned 26 yesterday, De La Cruz began his professional career in the Cubs’ system back in 2013 in the Dominican Summer League. Before the Cubs released him last year, De La Cruz spent time at all three Single-A levels and Double-A and pitched exclusively as a starter from 2014 through 2018. He pitched pretty well and appeared in the Cubs’ top ten prospect lists at both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America ahead of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but it’s worth noting that he dealt with a variety of injuries over the course of those seasons, too.

In 2018, De La Cruz made sixteen starts at Double-A, had a 5.24 ERA, and got suspended for 80 games for a banned masking agent.

The Cubs had De La Cruz start his 2019 season at High-A and bumped him back up to Double-A after three starts. In eight starts there, though, he had a 4.30 ERA, and the Cubs moved him to the bullpen for the rest of the season. He fared a bit better in that role, putting up a 3.86 ERA with 49 strikeouts and nine walks in 37.1 innings of work. With no minor league season last year because of the pandemic, he didn’t pitch in an affiliated game and made just one brief appearance in the Dominican Winter League during this offseason.

Clearly, the Mets have plenty of pitching depth ahead of De La Cruz, even with a whole lot of uncertainty in their bullpen heading into the season. Thus far in spring training, he’s made one appearance, throwing a scoreless one-two-three inning against the Cardinals with one strikeout.

Barring a longer-than-expected, successful stint in major league camp, a long string of injuries, or both, De La Cruz does not seem like a pitcher with a shot of starting the season with the Mets. Given his past performance as a prospect, though, he might be an interesting arm to keep an eye on when the minor league season gets underway.