Despite tackling what many thought was the Dodgers greatest deficiency and loading up on starting pitching – they currently have eight starters on their roster — heading into Spring Training the Dodgers have a few weighty question marks left to address. One of the biggest question marks is who will fill out the left side of the infield.
The mid-season trade that brought long-time Marlins SS and 2009 batting champ Hanley Ramirez to Los Angeles may have further complicated the infield picture for the Dodgers. With the Miami Marlins off season acquisition of free agent SS Jose Reyes, Ramirez was relegated to 3B, a position he obviously did not enjoy as he only played 8 games at 3B before switching back to SS when he came west.
Dee Gordon’s offensive disappearance and lack of defensive consistency precipitated the Dodgers decision to start long time minor leaguer and Mexico native Luis Cruz at 3B, sliding Hanley Ramirez over to SS. Cruz had previously only played in 56 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers over 3 seasons at the major league level. Following his March 28, 2011 release by the Brewers, Cruz was signed by the Texas Rangers and did not appear in a single game in the majors during the 2011 season.
After the Rangers released Cruz in November of 2011, the Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract. Initially, Cruz appeared to be merely a “defensive specialist” that presented a better alternative than the abysmal black hole that is Juan Uribe, who only managed to put together a pathetic .191/.258/.284 batting line during the 2012 season.
Luis Cruz hails from Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. He is the son of famous 16-season Mexican League veteran Luis Cruz Sr. According to baseball-reference.com, as of 2000 Cruz Sr. was “17th all-time in Mexican League history in doubles and RBI, 13th in home runs and 15th in times hit by pitch (87).” Cruz’s pedigree and Cinderella story are reasons he is becoming a favorite among fans.
It’s no secret that a large percentage of southern California fans of the Dodgers are Mexican-Americans and relish when the Dodgers field talented Mexican players. You may recall a guy named Fernando Valenzuela who won the NL Cy Young, the NL Rookie of the Year Award, and the World Series championship way back in 1981. Fernando Mania swept through southern California and, together with the championship trophy, inspired a swell in Dodger attendance from 1982-1985. With the power to sway hundreds of thousands of Mexican-American Angelinos into the park each year, it’s no wonder the Dodgers are turning to Mexican talents like Adrian Gonzalez.
Further underlining the Dodgers’ ties to the Mexican community, Gonzalez and Cruz will be playing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, which begins on Saturday, March 2nd in Fukuoka, Japan. Mexico’s first game will be played on Thursday, March 7th in Arizona.
A friend of mine named Jose, a die-hard Dodger fan, confidently announced last night that Luis Cruz was the future in Los Angeles, and that Cruz could be the next Mexican superstar for the Dodgers. It’s hard to disagree with Jose that Cruz does mean a great deal to Mexican-American Dodger fans right now. His emergence as the everyday third baseman and his clutch hitting has made him a fan favorite. But will he really be the future of the Dodgers? Will he blossom into a superstar?
Considering that he had spent nearly his entire career banished to the minors, Cruz’s numbers from last year are surprisingly good. He put together a .297/.322/.431 batting line that seems oddly reminiscent of Jose Reyes 2010 season when he recorded a .282/.321/.428 batting line. Cruz and Reyes share similar power numbers with Cruz hitting 6 HRs in 2012 and Reyes averaging 12 HRs for an entire 162-game season.
Cruz and Reyes differ on three significant categories, two of which may prevent Cruz from becoming a super star:
- Speed: Reyes has a significant speed advantage, averaging over 55 steals per 162 games in a somewhat injury plagued career. Cruz has 2 stolen bases in his 134 total games as a major leaguer.
- Walks: Reyes has a higher walk rate than Cruz. In fact, in his 2012 season with the Dodgers Cruz posted a very unimpressive 9 walks in 78 at-bats, contributing to his not so great OBP.
- History: While Reyes has a successful track record as a major leaguer, Cruz will have to prove himself in the next season.
Luis Cruz has potential for greatness with his timely hitting and above average play in the field at 3 different infield positions: 3B, 2B, and SS. Many, including me, think that Cruz should start the 2013 season as the team’s everyday SS because he is a superior defender to Hanley Ramirez.
Ultimately, what troubles me is Cruz’s inability to take walks. In order to be a true threat with his bat he must learn better pitch selection and increase his walks drastically from his anemic 2012 total. The Dodgers desperately need offensive production from the left side of the infield, which has been under performing offensively for the past few seasons. With an increase in patience at the plate, Luis Cruz may very well have a breakout season in 2013. Cruz will probably be the future starting third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers; the only question remaining is will he live up to his fans’ expectations?