Keury De La Cruz was so looking forward to this season. He seemed to be moving up the Red Sox minor league chain, step-by-step and ready for Double-A Portland.
Boston liked what it saw of De La Cruz and called him up to play the final major league game of spring training.
De La Cruz played right field and sprinted toward a sinking line drive.
“I tried to dive in and catch the ball,” De La Cruz said.
But his glove (right) hand hit the ground awkwardly. Portland would have to wait. De La Cruz broke his hand and stayed behind at the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I was there a long time,” De La Cruz said, the frustration obvious in his voice.
De La Cruz finally got a plane ticket to New Jersey and joined the Sea Dogs in Trenton. He played his first game June 1, going 2 for 4 with a double.
And now De La Cruz, 22, is a key part of this Portland team, one of the players amply filling the gaps left by players promoted to Triple-A.
De La Cruz is batting .294 with seven home runs and 28 RBI.
Those are the kind of numbers that could keep De La Cruz moving up.
De La Cruz signed as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He looked average for three years, playing in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League, and for the Lowell Spinners, but nothing eye-popping.
Then in 2012, De La Cruz played his first full season, for low Class A Greenville, batting .308 with 19 home runs.
A power-hitting, left-handed outfielder … all of a sudden, De La Cruz was considered a prospect. Baseball America named him one of the five Red Sox minor leaguers on its postseason All-Star team – joining Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes and Travis Shaw.
At advanced Class A Salem in 2013, De La Cruz saw a reduction in power (nine homers), but was still batting .284 at the end of July.
Then came the slump and a .180 average in August.
“His numbers were just down. I don’t know what happened,” said Sea Dogs Manager Billy McMillon, who was in Salem last year. “Going into August he had been really good.”
De La Cruz shrugged for an answer about the slump: “I just kept working every day.”
De La Cruz did hit a home run in the 2013 playoffs as Salem won the Carolina League championship. He’s one of several players from that Salem team now in Portland.
“Good teammates who work hard,” De La Cruz said.
De La Cruz’s work has not come easy. He said his hand still hurts.
But he did get off to a fast start before a so-so July (.237, one home run, no walks). De La Cruz seemed to be falling back into old habits.
“He used to be an over-aggressive guy,” hitting coach Rich Gedman said. “When you try too hard, you swing at everything and get yourself out.”
De La Cruz adjusted – “I work on all the little things,” he said.
And this year, August has been a good month: .329 average, four home runs and 11 walks.
“He’s starting to learn the importance of getting good pitches to hit,” Gedman said.
Of course, De La Cruz would like to finish strong and help Portland to a championship along the way.