RIP to Frankie De la Cruz, who pitched all over the world in a lengthy career, including with four teams in Major League Baseball He died on March 14 of a heart attack, just two days after his 37th birthday. De la Cruz was still an active pitcher at the time of his passing and had an 0-1 record and 2.35 ERA for the Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League. “The Board of Directors of the Toros, operations staff, coaches and players send their condolences to his wife Michelle Susana White, their children, other relatives and friends,” the team said (via translation). De la Cruz played for the Detroit Tigers (2007), Florida Marlins (2008), San Diego Padres (2009) and Milwaukee Brewers (2011).
Eulogio De la Cruz was born on March 12, 1984, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The name “Frankie” came about as none of his teammates on the 2004 West Michigan Whitecaps could pronounce “Eulogio.” “I don’t recall which player it was on the team [said], ‘Hey, Eulogio is too hard,’ and they didn’t know what the American name for that was,” Matt Walbeck, manager of the Whitecaps, told the Detroit News. “So one guy said, ‘Let’s call you Frank,’ and he said, ‘OK.’ He bought in. The next thing we knew, he was Frank. He told the press box to call him Frank. It was classic. That was his name.”
“He was one of those guys that could really light up a clubhouse,” Walbeck added. “And he had quite an arm.”
De la Cruz’s fastball, Walbeck noted, could touch 100 miles an hour, and it was one of the reasons why the Tigers signed him as an amateur free agent in 2001. He made his American debut as an 18-year-old in 2002 with the Gulf Coast Tigers and the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League. For his first few years, as he pitched in the lowest levels of the Tigers’ organization, De la Cruz was used as a reliever. He broke through as a significant prospect in 2004 with the Whitecaps, as he appeared in 54 games and recorded 17 saves to go with a 2-4 record and 3.83 ERA. He struck out 44 batters in 54 innings, but he also walked 33 and had 13 wild pitches. Still, he knew how to create a buzz.
The Quad City Times reported on the first time De la Cruz pitched at John O’Donnell Stadium in Davenport, Iowa. His first pitch hit 98 on the stadium’s scoreboard radar, getting the crowd’s attention. Then he hit 97 and 96 before topping out at 99, eliciting some cheers — a rarity for a visiting pitcher. “When you see a guy putting up numbers like that, it makes it tough to get comfortable in the batter’s box,” commented Quad Cities Swing manager Kevin Boles. The flame-throwing pitcher hit three digits on a few of his pitches during the course of the season.
De la Cruz made it to AAA for the first time in 2006, joining the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League in time for the team’s postseason. By then, he was beginning to get some starts as well. His ERA usually ended up in the mid-3s, and he pretty consistently averaged about 7-1/2 strikeouts per 9 innings. A combination of injuries to reliever Zach Minor and ineffectiveness by Joel Zumaya led Detroit to bring De la Cruz to the majors in June 2007. The team hoped he could serve as a late-inning stopper along with Fernando Rodney. He made his debut on June 18, 2007, throwing a scoreless inning of relief against the Washington Nationals. He followed that up with two more scoreless outings against the Nationals and Atlanta Braves. When the Tigers went back to facing American League teams, De la Cruz’s luck ran out. He was hit for 3 runs against Texas on June 25, allowing a wild pitch, a passed ball, a walk, two singles and a 2-run homer by Jerry Hairston. Then Minnesota knocked him for 5 runs in 2 innings of work on June 29, though only 2 runs were earned. He was sent back to the minors shortly after, with a 6.75 ERA in 6 games.
De la Cruz was part of a large package of prospects that Detroit sent to the Florida Marlins in December 2007 for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins also received pitchers Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop and Dallas Trahern, catcher Mike Rabelo and outfielder Cameron Maybin. De la Cruz spent most of 2008 at AAA Albuquerque, where he won 13 games as a starter. He had several cups of coffee with the Marlins along the way. He made the only start of his major-league career on May 25 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Giants. He lasted 3 innings and allowed 2 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks. Then he made an appearance in June, one in July and three in September. Aside from a scoreless inning against the Cardinals on September 7, De la Cruz gave up runs in all the appearances and ended up having allowed 18 runs in 9 innings, on 15 hits and 11 walks.
The Padres acquired De la Cruz in early 2009 and put him on the Opening Day roster. He had two scoreless outings against the Dodgers and Giants but ran into trouble against Pittsburgh on April 25. In 2 innings, De la Cruz walked 5 batters and allowed 2 hits and 2 runs to score, raising his ERA to 5.40. He was designated for assignment days later and assigned to AAA Portland in the Pacific Coast League. He pitched well in relief there but was released at the end of the season.
De la Cruz did not pitch in the United States in 2010, spending the year in Japan with the Yakult Swallows organization. He also made his usual appearances with the Estrellas of the Dominican Winter League, which he had done regularly since 2007-08. He started a game for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series as well, taking the loss with 5 good innings of work. He signed a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for 2011 and, after pitching for AAA Nashville, returned to the majors and pitched the best stint of his MLB career.
De la Cruz was now 27 years old and appeared in 11 games from early August 2011 until the end of the season. He made a total of 11 trips out of the bullpen and was unscored upon in 8 of them. Opposing hitters had a .213 batting average off of him, and the 2.77 ERA in 13 innings was his best work in the big leagues. He fanned 9 batters and walked 5, though he also hit a couple and threw 3 wild pitches.
De la Cruz was claimed by the Cubs in 2012, and he spent half a season with AAA Iowa before he was released. He re-signed with the Brewers and pitched for them for the rest of 2012 and 2013, not really meriting a return trip to the majors.
De la Cruz appeared in a total of 26 games in the majors over 4 seasons, with 1 start. He had no record and an 8.16 ERA, having allowed 29 earned runs in 32 innings. He struck out 20 batters and walked 26 while allowing 37 hits.
Though his career in Major League Baseball had concluded, De la Cruz continued to pitch all around the world. In his 19-year career as a pitcher, he played in the Dominican Republic (Estrellas, Escogido, Toros), Japan (Yakult), China (Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions), Puerto Rico (Gigantes de Carolina), Mexico (Monterrey, Jalisco, Saltillo), Venezuela (Tuburones de La Guaira, Navegantes del Magallanes, Aguillas del Zulia) and Italy (Nettuno). Per Baseball Reference, his career totals across all levels of professional baseball are 91 wins, 112 losses and a 4.26 ERA in 622 games. Minor League Baseball notes that he was a two-time All-Star in Mexico. He signed with the Toros for the 2019-2020 season and helped the team to the league’s championship. He appeared in the championship series against the Tigres del Licey and held them to 1 run in 4 innings.