Cruz, originally signed by the Giants in April 1993 as a non-drafted free agent, spent four seasons in the Giants farm system. Left unprotected, Cruz was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the December 1996 Rule V draft. Even before he could turn his first double play, the Dodgers sent Cruz packing to the Detroit Tigers where he instantly became the Tigers starting shortstop.
In 1997, his first year in the majors, Cruz finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He played for the Motor City Kitties from 1997-2001 before landing on his feet in San Diego (2002) and Baltimore (2003).
It was with the Orioles that Cruz established a career high in homers with 14.
Following the 2003 campaign, Cruz was picked up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Upon his release by the Devil Rays late in spring training, he was signed to a minor league contract by the Giants. Despite not being on the Opening Day roster and not having his contract purchased from the triple-A Fresno Grizzlies until April 26th, he still appeared in 127 contests (including 93 starts at short). In the end, Cruz emerged as the Giants everyday shortstop with Opening Day shortstop Neifi Perez being released.
Cruz had a solid offensive season batting .292 for the season, second highest in his career. On August 21st versus the New York Mets, Cruz collected his 1,000th career hit. He was Mr. Clutch for the Giants last season, batting .333. Cruz was also the club’s top performer coming off the bench, leading the team in pinch hits (8) and runs batted in (5), and batting average (.348).
Though many feel he could have better range, Cruz is still durable and not a serious liability in the field. Cruz only committed 8 errors last season and owns the 8th highest fielding percentage ever by a shortstop.
This past November, Cruz re-signed with the Giants. Even before the ink had time to dry, the Giants signed former Cleveland Indian and Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel. A quick look at both of their 2004 offensive numbers show that they practically mirror one another. It is defensively where they stand apart and there becomes no contest.
With the Vizquel signing, Cruz has been pushed to the backburner and relegated to the supporting role of backup. It also has made Cruz expendable. If the price is right, the Giants could very well part ways with Cruz before the start of the season or Cruz could ask for his release, hoping to land a starting job elsewhere.
If Cruz does stay and manages to match his performance off the bench from last season, he becomes a valuable asset to manager Alou’s bench. Additionally, he can start whenever Vizquel needs a day off.
Wendy J Sotos is a Cleveland based writer who loves nothing more than a Jim Thome blast and an Omar Vizquel barehanded scoop. Both of which, she believes, will be Hall of Famers when their playing days are over.
Wendy can be reached at: designatedwriter@yahoo. com
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