For 250 Dominican pesos -- about $4.50 -- Pedro De La Cruz promises the best car wash in the Dominican Republic. De La Cruz and his employees clean every customer's ride by hand, and when he opened Pedro's Boutique in the city of Sabana Grande de Boyá, the 21-year-old brought with him the same work ethic he used to display on the baseball field.
When he was growing up, Pedro was bigger and stronger than his twin brother -- and he worked harder too. He just didn't have the passion of his brother, who fell in love with the game at the small field near their house and wanted to hit and throw and run and play all day. Pedro's baseball career ended when he stopped growing as a teenager.
Elly De La Cruz, Pedro's twin, suffered no such fate. Once the runt of the pair, he sprouted first to a slim 6 feet, projectible enough to entice the Cincinnati Reds to sign him as a 16-year-old in 2018. Over the next three years, he grew 5 more inches. Now, at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, he is baseball's newest sensation: a tooled-up, switch-hitting phenomenon, the sort of player whose magnetic presence is made even more inconceivable by the fact that his fraternal twin isn't even average height for men globally.
When asked how tall he is in a recent phone conversation with ESPN, both speaking through an interpreter, Pedro started to answer before Elly chimed in, brotherly as ever, and said: "Don't lie." Pedro chuckled and said: "Well, I haven't really measured myself in a while, but it's around 5-8."
The miracle of Elly De La Cruz is not just the unmatched combination of power, speed and arm strength that has supercharged Cincinnati's surge toward the top of the National League Central division with a 13-5 record since his June 6 arrival in the major leagues. It's that even in his family, with two average-sized parents and eight siblings just the same, he hit the genetic lottery, growing 9 inches taller than someone with whom he shared the womb -- a fact that confounds those who don't know them to the point of requiring proof.
"They still don't believe it. They say it's not true," Pedro said. "So we just have to show people the birth certificate for them to believe."
The rapidity of De La Cruz's ascent confounds even the Reds, whose 2023 rookie class -- which also includes standout middle infielder Matt McLain, slugging utilityman Spencer Steer and strikeout aficionado Andrew Abbott -- is shaping up as an all-timer. When Cincinnati first scouted him at the academy of Cristian "Niche" Batista -- who also trained Juan Soto -- De La Cruz stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 130 pounds. All MLB evaluators, especially those in Latin America tasked with scouting preteens, have to be willing to take chances, but amid a landscape of million-dollar-plus bonus babies, De La Cruz's $65,000 signing bonus reflected the industry's view of him: He was a lottery ticket.
Not until after the lost pandemic season of 2020 did the Reds realize they'd hit the jackpot. Between the growth spurt and a newfound appreciation for weightlifting, De La Cruz morphed from the 17-year-old who hit one home run in 186 Dominican Summer League plate appearances to the rarest sort of player: someone with three scale-breaking tools. His raw power manifested itself in batting practice shots that traveled 475 feet. He glided around the bases with the long, loping strides of another slender, 6-5 marvel: Usain Bolt. When De La Cruz threw the ball, it regularly sizzled across the diamond at 95-plus mph.
In 2022, De La Cruz batted over .300 in High-A and Double-A, and his 28 home runs across the two levels were by far the most for a minor league player who stole as many bases as his 47. He proceeded to hit 12 home runs and swipe 11 bags in 38 games at Triple-A this season before the Reds summoned him in June to split time between shortstop and third base.
"I saw a lot of things on social media saying, 'Hey, we want you up there. We want you at the big leagues,'" De La Cruz explained. "But when I did get that call, that I was going to go up there, I'm like, 'OK, it's the same game. It's the same thing that I'm going to do every day. It's nothing out of the ordinary.'
"I mean, this is what I was made to do. And sure enough, I'm going out there not thinking about any pressure or anything like that and just going out there and playing the game that I know."
In his first week in the big leagues, De La Cruz hit his first career home run 458 feet, stole five bases, went home to third in an MLB-best 10.83 seconds and threw a ball 96 mph. In recent days, he showed off his speed by logging an infield single on a hard-hit one-hopper to first base and capped his National League Player of the Week-winning performance by legging out a triple for his first career cycle in an 11-10 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday. After 19 games in the majors, he is hitting .299/.357/.533 with 3 home runs, 10 RBIs and 8 stolen bases.
ELLY DE LA CRUZ CRUSHED— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 7, 2023
114.8 mph pic.twitter.com/QtnEQF3Yip
De La Cruz doesn't shy away from the outsize hype that now trails him, calling himself "The Fastest Man in the World" -- and even inscribing the bat he signed for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the moniker. When asked how he compares to Bolt, De La Cruz said: "I mean, he's great at running straight out there ... and I'm just great at running the bases." De La Cruz enjoys that element of the game more than hitting and throwing, he said, "because it just brings the energy to your teammates and the fans too."
Never was that energy more apparent than over the past weekend, when the Reds hosted the best team in the NL, the Braves, and sold out Great American Ball Park, a rarity for a proud baseball city that had been subjected to abject mediocrity for the better part of a decade.
De La Cruz said he concerns himself more with what's coming than what's been. Praise from fellow Dominican players Ketel Marte and Oneil Cruz -- except that at 6-7, he also shatters industry expectations of what a shortstop is supposed to look like -- is appreciated but doesn't swell his head. De La Cruz retreats to his room after games and plays NBA 2K as a 6-4 point guard create-a-player. He wears around his neck a medallion with a photograph of him and his parents on the day he signed.
"That's when the dream started," De La Cruz said, and it shows no sign of abating. However much hype surrounds him, he is still just Elly. Nothing there has changed -- nor, as Pedro said, will it: "With everything that goes on with him and his success, his humility really stands out."
In his mind, Elly will forever be the player scouts overlooked because he too closely resembled Pedro, not the player who just kept getting bigger and stronger and better.
"I started growing up," Elly said, "and he stayed little."
"He started eating all of his food," Pedro countered.
Elly is happy to play Arnold Schwarzenegger to Pedro's Danny DeVito. (And, no, in case you were wondering, neither has seen "Twins.") Whatever Elly did -- or whatever inside of him blossomed at just the right time -- he's here, and Cincinnati is thankful for it. For the next three months, and likely for years to come, Elly De La Cruz will be appointment viewing. From afar, his twin brother will be watching, whether at home or at the car wash, thankful that any height he might be missing went to the person who unquestionably knows how to use it.