Elly De La Cruz, who spent the majority of the 2022 season with the Dayton Dragons, was named the winner of the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, an honor presented annually by the Cincinnati Reds to their Minor League Player of the Year, on Friday night at Redsfest.
Two other Dragons players also received big awards from the Reds on Friday. First baseman Alex McGarry was named Minor League Hitter of the Year, while Andrew Abbott was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
De La Cruz becomes the fifth Dayton player to be selected Reds Minor League Player of the Year after spending all or most of the year with the Dragons. Other Dragons players to earn the honor following a season in Dayton were Austin Kearns (2000), Billy Hamilton (2011), Seth Mejias-Brean (2013), and Tyler Mahle (2015).
The selections of De La Cruz, McGarry, and Abbott mark the second time in Dragons history that a Dayton player has won all three Reds minor league awards in the same season. In 2013, Seth Mejias-Brean (Player of the Year), Jesse Winker (Hitter of the Year), and Robert Stephenson (Pitcher of the Year) were winners after spending all or part of the year with the Dragons.
De La Cruz has earned multiple honors and awards for his outstanding 2022 season. He was named by Minor League Baseball as the Midwest League’s “Top MLB Prospect” and was also named as the shortstop on the MWL Full-Season All-Star Team (one player selected per position). De La Cruz became the first Dragons player to earn the top prospect award since the club’s inaugural season of 2000, when Dayton outfielder Austin Kearns shared the honor with Peoria’s Albert Pujols.
De La Cruz played in 72 games with the Dragons and batted .302 with 20 home runs. He became the first player in Dragons history and first Midwest League player since 1999 (Corey Patterson, Lansing) to hit at least .300 with at least 20 home runs and at least 25 stolen bases.
Including his time this summer with Chattanooga after he was promoted from the Dragons in late-July, De La Cruz combined to bat .304 with 28 home runs and 47 stolen bases. He became the first player in Minor League Baseball to hit at least 25 home runs, steal at least 40 bases, and hit at least .300 in a season since George Springer in 2013.
McGarry hit 27 home runs in the Reds system his season to finish second in the organization to De La Cruz. McGarry’s slugging percentage of .543 was also second in the system to De La Cruz. McGarry played in 41 games for the Dragons, batting .286 with 11 home runs, a .604 slugging percentage, and an OPS of .939.
Abbott led all Reds minor league pitchers in strikeouts in 2022 with 159 in 118 innings. With the Dragons, Abbott made five appearances and posted an ERA of 0.67, allowing just two runs in 27 innings with 40 strikeouts.
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