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2021 Marlins Season Review: Bryan De La Cruz

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A young outfielder acquired at the deadline shows how high his ceiling can be!

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Here’s a question for you, my brilliant readers: how can a player have two MLB debuts and two first MLB hits—months apart from each other—one of which happens while the player was part of an entirely different MLB organization? Bryan Starling De La Cruz had a fascinating 2021 season, to say the least.

De La Cruz began his season in the Houston Astros’ minor league system with the AAA Sugar Land Skeeters. Over 293 plate appearances, he recorded a batting average of .324 with 88 hits, 17 doubles, 12 home runs, 50 RBIs, and 17 walks. Not only did he hit well in AAA, but he also had a fielding percentage of 1.000 at all three outfield positions! This caliber of production may have been rewarded with a promotion sooner if not for the Astros’ abundance of outfield riches on their Major League roster.

As the trade deadline approached, the Astros determined that the Dominican outfielder was expendable in their search for relief pitching depth. On July 28, they packaged him with veteran RHP Austin Pruitt to the Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Yimi García.

Immediately after arriving in Miami, the Marlins put DLC to work in right field against the New York Yankees. His defensive abilities were definitely on display from day one. He showed off his elite sprint speed, robbing Gary Sánchez of an extra-base hit for his second first MLB putout, followed by his second first MLB hit two games later (I’ll explain soon why those were “seconds” for him).

In August, De La Cruz recorded a batting average of .384 with 33 hits, five doubles, two home runs, eight RBIs, and five walks in 92 plate appearances in August, helped by an insane BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .508! A concurrent hot streak by Frank Schwindel of the Chicago Cubs was the only thing that prevented DLC from receiving NL Rookie of the Month honors.

This brings us back to our original recordkeeping question.

To answer this, we have to rewind to April 11, as the Marlins and Mets began the rubber match of a three-game series on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. Corey Dickerson led off the game with a hit off Marcus Stroman, and Starling Marte flew out to right field. Then things got interesting. After throwing two balls in the dirt to Jesús Aguilar, the umpires decided to pull the tarp out and couldn’t find a reasonable “window” in the forecast to resume play. The game was suspended.

The Marlins and Mets met again in NY on August 31 and picked up exactly where they left off as part of a doubleheader between the teams. But by then, five out of the original nine players in the starting lineup for the Marlins—including starting pitcher John Curtiss—were no longer on the team. While most of the original Mets players were still eligible, Don Mattingly had to make widespread substitutions for the Fish to accommodate his remade roster. It was so quirky!

Here’s the fun part: all the stats from the resumed game count as if they happened way back on the original start date! As a result, Bryan De La Cruz technically made his Major League debut and got his first Major League hit on April 11, while in reality, he was an Astros farmhand back then and still weeks away from debuting at Triple-A. Pretty cool, huh?

De La Cruz went on to finish the season with a batting average of .296 with 59 hits, five homers, two triples, seven doubles, 19 RBIs, and 18 walks over 219 plate appearances. On the fielding side of things, he recorded an overall fielding percentage of .975 with three outfield assists and only three errors in 473 innings, contributing 2 Defensive Runs Saved. RF was his primary spot during the first several weeks, but he transitioned into becoming the club’s everyday CF in September.

So, where does DLC fit into the roster next year? The answer depends on what the Marlins’ front office does during the offseason. Recent reports and interviews point to the team pursuing additional outfield bats, either via trade or free agency, who have substantial MLB experience. That may shift Bryan into a platoon role as a fourth outfielder. We will see if DLC is given a starting role like I and other fans want to see. But I’ll leave those decisions to Donnie Baseball!