2013 Dodgers player profile: Luis Cruz, the cult hero

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Cruz came seemingly out of nowhere to contribute for the Dodgers, and put up a stellar half-season. Can the 29-year-old repeat it in 2013?

This is the fourth year we have written preseason player profiles, and we usually write somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 profiles each year. The general rule is that everyone on the 40-man roster gets a profile, plus a few interesting non-roster invitees. We try to have one profile up each day, something to run, like clockwork, every morning on the site, heading into the season.

The general question we get about these player profiles have a tone of, "Why are you writing about this scrub?" But, Luis Cruz provided a counterargument, that we aren't doing enough of these profiles.

Cruz began 2012 in major league camp as a non-roster invitee with the Dodgers, but the 28-year old with 169 career plate appearances who hadn't played in the majors since 2010 was not deemed profile worthy. Instead, you read about Alberto Castillo, Angel Guzman, and Wil Ledezma, while Cruz was busy nearly making the team in spring training.

Cruz made it to the final cut in spring training, on Apr. 4, and carried over his strong play in Triple-A Albuquerque. Cruz hit .318/.348/.529 with the Isotopes, and clubbed 31 doubles in just 74 games in Triple-A.

The Dodgers called up Cruz on July 2 for infield depth, then two days later starting shortstop Dee Gordon dislocated his thumb sliding into third base. Cruz was thrust into an everyday role right away, and he thrived. But he hit a bit of a wall and after 30 games Cruz was hitting just .238/.283/.381, about what you'd expect from a career journeyman with 4,891 minor league plate appearances. But considering he was providing solid defense and replacing Gordon's .229/.280/.282 line, Cruz was given a little more rope.

Cruz hit .331/.346/.461 over the final 48 games of the season, and by the end of the year had fans chanting his name and buying his t-shirts.

The performance earned Cruz the first crack at the starting third base job this year, but there are many question marks heading into 2013. Namely, was his performance last season a fluke?

Can the minor league journeyman repeat his strong performance in his age-29 season? He last drew a walk on Aug. 29, and went his final 31 games and 120 plate appearances without a bases on balls. Will major league pitchers exploit his plate discipline?

Or has Cruz simply figured things out in the last two years after never hitting higher than .281, never getting on-base at more than a .314 clip, and never slugged higher than .415 in any minor league season prior to 2011?

To his credit, Cruz has done his part this offseason by moving in with and working out with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, his teammate on both the Dodgers and Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. It's a more comprehensive training program than Cruz has ever done, as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times explained:

"We're not dieting, but we're careful with what we eat," Cruz says. "Nothing bad. That's helped. When you're in Mexico, you eat everything. You go out and eat tacos. I had to get out of there. I would have looked like Mo Vaughn."

Given that the Dodgers haven't (yet) acquired anyone else for the hot corner, and their insistence in keeping Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, the team needs Cruz to come through one more time.

Trivia

Cruz hit a single in his first major league plate appearance on Sept. 2, 2008, and it came as a member of the Pirates off current teammate Aaron Harang, then of the Reds.

With the Dodgers in 2012, Cruz drove in a run in each of his first four games, the first in franchise history to drive in a run in his first four games with the team since Jimmy Wynn, who drove in a run in each of his first six games as a Dodger in 1974.

Contact Status

Cruz is under team control, and has one year, 76 days of service time, and is out of options.

Stats

Year Age PA HR
Runs RBI BA OBP SLG wOBA
2010 (AAA - Mil)
26 518 10 54 68 .281 .309 .414 .318
2011 (AAA - Tex)
27 286 9 34 34 .273 .301 .433 .320
2012
28 296 6 26 40 .297 .322 .431 .326
2013 Projections - Age 29 Season
Year PA HR
Runs RBI BA OBP SLG wOBA
Bill James 375 7 37 40 .260 .287 .390 .292
ZiPS 525 9 48 56 .262 .286 .385 .289

2013 Outlook

Those predictions don't look so hot for Cruz, but he doesn't have much of a track record off which to project. My guess is that Cruz starts 68 games at third base, and hits .271/.308/.397.

What is your guess for Cruz in 2012? Be sure to guess BA/OBP/SLG, number of starts at third base, and anything else you wish to guess.

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