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Visiting the video room: Eric De La Rosa’s strong season for the Whitecaps is keeping things interesting

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He’s been one of West Michigan’s most consistent hitters

Comerica Park - Waldon

Some minor league players just jump off a stats page. For the West Michigan Whitecaps, outfielder Eric De La Rosa has been one of those guys this year. Few, if any, Detroit Tigers prospect lists would’ve included De La Rosa before the season. Then again he was hitting well under .150 as a 22 year old in Short season ball in 2019. That poor performance left De La Rosa outside the conversation as the Tigers farm system entered the lockdown year, but he appears to have put the time to good use.

After starting the year hitting .276 in Lakeland, De La Rosa earned a call up to West Michigan. Since that call up he’s played 58 games while slashing .291/.372/.458 acting as the Whitecaps leadoff hitter in most of his tenure. Not only has he been one of the most consistent bats on the team since joining, he even hit for a cycle earlier in the year.

Background

The Tigers selected De La Rosa in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Grossmont College. His baseball skills were still raw, but his athletic ability made him an interesting developmental project. He’s listed at 6’3”, 186 pounds. The weight might even be too much because De La Rosa has a very lean, slender frame. In a word, he’s got long levers.

De La Rosa grew up in San Diego training in Taekwondo like his older siblings, building strength and mobility in his lower half before finally leaving the martial arts at age 15 to pursue baseball full-time. It wasn’t an easy path and it didn’t come naturally. In fact, De La Rosa wasn’t really recruited out of high school, getting a walk-on invitation at San Diego State and red-shirting his freshman year while building some muscle onto his skinny frame.

When a new coaching staff took over the program, De La Rosa quickly found himself cut from the squad. That led to a lot of soul searching, as he transferred to Grossmont College, a junior college in the area. It also led to a renewed obsession with the game and tons of film study as he tried to tear down and rebuild his swing.

Right now, his game seems to be built on pure athleticism. It makes him a ton of fun to watch because there’s so much that can happen when he’s involved both offensively and defensively. His 28 steals on the year could give that one away. Of course speed is never enough. Unfortunately, his power numbers point to a contact hitter profile, but the strikeout rate over 30 percent screams otherwise. More on that to come.

At The Plate

The set up to this makes it seem like he’s a lost puppy at the plate, which he certainly isn’t anymore, although some may have wondered early in his pro career. De La Rosa swings very hard and he has some nice bat speed. That is what really carries him despite the numbers of whiffs and the fact that his raw power isn’t translating into actual power numbers yet. This works for him, right now. His timing is good and he can shoot balls for singles right back up the middle.

He can also cover the plate well. It’s another single up the middle, but he adjusted offspeed and had to get the barrel to the outer half of the zone.

It’s very hard to see the amount of times De La Rosa is striking out and whiffing then try to argue his hit tool isn’t as bad as it seems. I’m going to try though. All the ingredients seem to be there, just still in somewhat crude form. His bat to ball skills are good, he can stay back and adjust to breaking balls, and he walks at a good rate (8.2 percent). Watch him stay back to drive this breaking ball to the opposite field for extra bases.

That is a fairly impressive piece of hitting.

Consistently there are two main Achilles heels for De La Rosa that cause him to swing and miss. Fastballs up and curveballs that drop out of the zone. Specifically, the velocity up in the zone is a focus for me. This was kind of a long process with a lot of research that went into it. First, an example of fastballs up in the zone for De La Rosa.

In order to dive into this, one of the first things to do is isolate the load. The first movement in this swing process is for him to move his body down. It happens before the foot even comes of the ground.

That means to reach the fastballs up, his body has to come back up. By looking at the position of his torso from stance to load to swing, it’s easier to tell that his eye line changes through this process. That’s where this started, but there is a lot more to it than that.

That crouching motion during the load specifically is what will make it hard to get to velo up at the top of the zone. As the pictures show he has to come back up and make contact while changing his spine angle and eyeline substantially. These are difficult things to do. There’s a lot more that goes into it, however.

This Driveline article was the most helpful in trying to explain the potentially posture issues created by that initial crouch. The crouch can also be referred to as ‘striding down’ and by nature it will leave he hitter susceptible to velocity up in the zone. That article talks about working top down, essentially adjusting to lower in the zone rather than high. It’s easier to adjust to the low ball rather than come back up to the ball up in the zone.

As for the other pitch, the breaking ball down, it seems like he has trouble reading the spin when the ball drops out of the zone. Especially on the sharper breaking balls he sees from a prospect with nasty stuff like Clayton Beeter here.

Honestly, the hit tool may never be average. De La Rosa is hitting a lot of line drives and ground balls, letting his speed work. But he doesn’t leverage many balls in the air, and his power numbers reflect that. However there are some ongoing adjustments that could improve his strikeout rates. Rather than even trying to catch up to high fastballs, he may be better served by laying off anything that starts head high and learning to adjust and stay back on those pitches so he can react in time when he does get the big breaking ball. There’s a combination of mechanical issues and approach here that will still take plenty of sorting if De La Rosa is ever to succeed into the upper levels of the system.

What’s the Best Part of His Game

Easy, the speed. De La Rosa is fast, very fast. Some guys will have high steal numbers in the lower levels for a myriad of reasons. For him it’s speed. After hitting a triple, the defense over threw the ball and he was able to sprint home. Thanks to that there’s a good look at how the speed plays.

Once he realized the he could score he was off. His long legs cycle through very quickly and have some naturally long strides. He also gets to top speed very quickly. It’s impressive watching him run. As a tool it’s at least plus, but more likely in the double plus range.

Final Thoughts

De La Rosa has the speed and range to handle centerfield, but he can play any of the three spots on the grass. His bat will likely always be the weak point, limiting him to a fourth outfielder ceiling that still seems like a real longshot. The hit tool is not as bad as the strikeout rates makes it seem, but he may never be able to compensate for his weaknesses there with power. It may come because of his frame and bat speed, but the signs of it haven’t shown through yet.

The question is what kind of role he can play at the top level. That is where things get murky. At best, if he makes the adjustments, the hope might be a Derek Hill-type player. More than likely he might have a Jacob Robson-esque career. One where he puts together several good seasons in the minors and climbs the ladder.

That doesn’t take anything away from the fantastic season De La Rosa is having. Currently he’s slashing .291/.372/.458 with three homers and 21 stolen bases in 232 plate appearances for the Whitecaps. There are just some holes in his game that will make it hard to sustain the performance as the pitching gets better. Prospect growth is not linear and the minors are all about development. It’ll be interesting to see what the Tigers do with De La Rosa. His path to further success will be difficult, but he remains an interesting work in progress to track.