Frankie De La Cruz, part of Tigers' trade for Miguel Cabrera, dies at 37
He will forever be remembered around here as one-sixth of the package of prospects that made Miguel Cabrera a Detroit Tiger.
Matt Walbeck will remember Eulogio "Frankie" De La Cruz for so much more than that.
"He was one of those guys that could really light up a clubhouse," said Matt Walbeck, De La Cruz's manager at Single-A West Michigan in 2004, then at Double-A Erie in 2007. "And he had quite an arm.
"He threw really hard, straight over the top with a four-seam fastball that touched 100 mph. When he was on, he was fun to watch."
De La Cruz, who signed with the Tigers as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and pitched briefly for them in the majors and for three other teams, died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 37.
His winter-league team in the Dominican, Toros del Este, made the announcement Monday, saying on Twitter, "Peace to your Soul!"
De La Cruz broke into the majors with the Tigers in 2007, making six relief appearances before he was part of the six-player package of prospects that was sent by the Tigers to the then-Florida Marlins at the 2007 winter meetings for Cabrera. Also part of that trade: Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Mike Rabelo and Burke Badenhop.
The Tigers considered De La Cruz a big-time prospect before the trade, first for the fastball and then for the breaking ball that developed at Double A.
They tried him as a reliever and starter.
"Dave Dombrowski really thought highly of him," Walbeck said. "We all did, just because you can't teach 100 miles per hour.
"He was very raw, at the same time, in learning how to pitch and compete, and adjust to the culture, but he did everything great. He was able to make all those adjustments necessary to play in the major leagues, and it was wonderful to see him get there."
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He saw six more games in the majors in 2008, with the Marlins, three the next year with the San Diego Padres and 11 in 2011 with the Milwaukee Brewers. He also spent time in the Chicago Cubs organization.
For the last seven years, he has pitched exclusively in international leagues — the Dominican, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy and Japan.
He wore 32 different uniforms during his professional career, and De La Cruz adapted well wherever he went.
"He was universally liked," said A.J. Sager, the Tigers' roving pitching coordinator, who worked with De La Cruz when he was at Double-A Erie.
"He was on the quieter side. He had an easy smile, not a lot of words."
For his professional career, he pitched more than 1,800 innings across a slew of stops, with more than 1,400 strikeouts.
The 5-foot-11 right-hander, who was mostly a reliever, had pitched in seven games this season for Toros Del Este, with a 2.35 ERA.
De La Cruz was born Eulogio, but he went by Frankie starting in 2004. Why? Because his teammates at West Michigan — a tight-knit group of players who won the league championship that year — couldn't pronounce Eulogio (eh-oo-low-gee-oh).
"The guys named him Frank," Walbeck said, laughing. "I don't recall which player it was on the team, 'Hey, Eulogio is too hard,' and they didn't know what the American name for that was. 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.
"A great story, and sad ending. A lot of people had some really fond memories of him and loved the guy."