Nobody, and I mean nobody, could have ever anticipated or predicted the incredible job that Dodger shortstop Luis Cruz has done since being called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to fill in for the injured Dee Gordon – nobody except Luis Cruz, that is.
Since being called up exactly one month ago today (on his son’s second birthday), the 28-year old Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico native is hitting .253 (23 for 91) with 2 home runs, 9 doubles, 11 runs scored, and 16 RBIs in his 25 games with the Dodgers. On the other side of the ball, Cruz has made only two errors in 109 total chances for an excellent .981 fielding percentage. Simply put, he is good enough to be the starting shortstop on any team in the MLB.
Cruz was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2000 and spent time within the Pirates, Padres, Brewers, Rangers and Astros organizations before signing a Minor League contract with the Dodgers last November. Cruz received a non-roster invitation to the Dodgers big league camp at spring training this past March where he finished near the top in almost every major offensive category. Although his .308 batting average ranked fourth highest on the team among players appearing in 20 or more spring training games, Cruz began the 2012 season at Triple-A Albuquerque where he continued to flourish. Cruz hit .318 with 8 home runs and 46 RBI in his 74 games with the Isotopes before his call-up to the Dodgers.
Cruz’s relationship with the Dodgers is, if nothing else, somewhat interesting. He made his Major League debut with the Pirates on September 2, 2008 when he got his first Major League hit (a single) off then Cincinnati Reds pitcher and current Dodger Aaron Harang. And though Cruz began the 2009 season on the Pirates opening day roster, he was demoted to Triple-A in mid-April to make room on the 25-man roster for Delwyn Young, whom the Pirates had just acquired from the Dodgers. Cruz played in 7 MLB games while with the Brewers in 2010 and spent most of the 2011 season playing in Mexico while in the Astros Minor League system.
As has been well documented, Luis’ father (Luis Cruz Sr.) played for 16 seasons in the Mexican Baseball League. The elder Cruz played in 1,671 games, ending his career with an excellent .297 batting average. He had 321 doubles, 210 homers, 903 runs and 1,034 RBI, and according to BaseballReference.com ranks 17th all-time (as of 2000) in Mexican League history in doubles and RBI, 13th in home runs and 15th in times hit by pitch (87).
With last week’s acquisition of Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins, the Dodgers starting infield took on an entirely new look. Even though Ramirez came over from the Marlins as a third baseman, he had spent all of his previous seven seasons in the big leagues as a shortstop – a position from where he earned the 2006 Rookie of the Year title and three All-Star selections. As such, it was only a matter of time before Ramirez saw action at shortstop for the Dodgers, which occurred in Sunday’s series finale against the D-backs.
It’s pretty safe to assume that given Cruz’s success since his call-up from Triple-A, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – at least not until Dee Gordon returns from the DL and even then it may not happen. But at some point, a decision will have to be made regarding Luis Cruz. If he remains as hot as he has been for the past month and if Ramirez becomes the everyday shortstop, Cruz very well may become the Dodgers everyday third baseman.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Luis Cruz regarding the possibility of him moving over to third base should Hanley Ramirez become the everyday shortstop. Before I get into that, let me start by saying that Luis is a great kid who is very polite and respectful. He always has a genuine smile on his face and it is very obvious that he is having the time of his life right now. He is flowing with confidence yet is clearly grateful and humble to be part of the team.
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RC: Now that the Dodgers have acquired Hanley Ramirez and with Don Mattingly having already said that he plans to give Hanley some playing time at shortstop, have you been working out at third base at all?
LC: The last couple of years I have played a lot of third base. In spring training I played like five games at third. I play everywhere… I played left field, right field, first, second, third, short.
RC: So if that move comes you’re ready for it?
LC: Ya, I just want to help the team wherever they need me… I’ll play any position. I was catching in spring training, like to see if I can make it as the third catcher… I mean, that’s fine, I just want to do my job and try to help the team win.
RC: It sure looks like you’re having a lot of fun out there.
LC: Ya, I’m having a lot of fun. It’s cool, I come here to L.A. and play every day for a month or so. I’m very happy, I’m very excited. I just want to keep doing my job and hopefully we’ll keep winning some games.
RC: I watched you quite a bit during spring training and you were at the top of just about every category. How were you able to do that?
LC: I think the key is that I work a lot. My dad is my hitting coach and we do a lot of work on my hitting. And thank God I feel really good. I’m in those situations and I’m getting my job done. I’m just very happy that I’m playing and that they are giving me a chance to prove what I can do.
The way that Luis Cruz carries himself both on and off the field, there is no doubt whatsoever that he will be successful wherever he may end up.