Cruz was signed by the New York Mets in February 1998 at the age of 17 but it took him 11 years to become a Major League All-Star, a journey that included a number of twists and turns.
The native of the Dominican Republic was traded three times before finding a permanent home with the Texas Rangers. In 2000, the Mets dealt him to Oakland for Velandia. And after four seasons in the Athletics organization, he was shipped to Milwaukee for Ginter.
Cruz methodically moved up the ladder, reaching Triple-A Nashville in 2005 and finally getting his first taste of big league action in a September stint with the Brewers.
Cruz looked to be in line for a return to the Majors the following season as he continued to mash Triple-A pitching to the tune of 20 homers and 71 RBIs in 102 games. He even stole 17 bases for the Sounds.
Instead, Cruz was traded to Texas with Carlos Lee for Nix on July 28, 2006. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels considered Cruz the key to the deal.
"We wouldn't have made this trade if he wasn't a part of it," Daniels told MLB.com. "We really like him. He's an athletic outfielder who is starting to put it together and perform, a five-tool guy who could be our right fielder for some time."
Cruz promptly became the Rangers' starting right fielder but struggled, hitting .223 with six homers in 130 at-bats. Texas stuck with him, however, and he began the 2007 season back in the starting lineup. This time, after batting .188 with three homers in 43 games, he was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City on June 8.
Back in the Pacific Coast League, Cruz thrived. He hit .352 with 15 homers in only 44 games, was back in the Majors before the end of July and batted .276 with six homers in 53 games the rest of the season.
"I was managing Oklahoma City when Cruz played at Nashville and I had seen him play," RedHawks manager Bobby Jones recalled. "I thought he was one of the best players in the league then and was a solid ballplayer."
Once again, however, Cruz had trouble finding a permanent home in the Majors. Placed on waivers by Texas, he went unclaimed and was back in Oklahoma City to start the 2008 campaign. Cruz went about proving 29 teams made a mistake as he hit .342 with 37 homers, 99 RBIs, 24 steals and was crowned the Pacific Coast League MVP.
The eye-popping numbers earned him another promotion to Arlington, an opportunity he did not squander. He batted .330 with seven homers in 31 games and was the Rangers' Opening Day right fielder in 2009.
"Every year, you come in and you think about you've got to make the club. This year, I'm more comfortable and I know I don't have to make the club," he told MLB.com. "I just come here to work on my game to get ready for the season."
All of the hard work, patience and bus rides finally paid off for Cruz, who was selected to replace the injured Torii Hunter on the American League All-Star team. He even participated in Home Run Derby, finishing second to Milwaukee's Prince Fielder.
By the end of the season, Cruz had 33 homers, 76 RBIs and 20 stolen bases while hitting .260.
"He's a hard worker and he comes to play every day," Jones said. "This kid always put up numbers in the Minor Leagues. You knew the talent was there and the ability was there and it was just a matter of time."
|1998-2000: Cruz spent three seasons in the Mets organization, never advancing past the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and totaling 17 home runs. |
|2001: In his first season in the Athletics organization, Cruz batted .250 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 23 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League. |
|2002: Playing for short-season Vancouver of the Northwest League, Cruz hit .276 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 63 games.|
|2003: Cruz began to flash the power that would eventually land him in the Major Leagues, slugging 20 homers for Class A Kane County to go with 85 RBIs and a .238 average. |
|2004: Starting at Class A Advanced Modesto, Cruz put it all together for the first time. He batted .345 with 11 homers in 66 games and was promoted to Double A-Midland, where he hit .313 with 14 homers in 67 games. He ended the year with a four-game stint at Triple-A Sacramento, homering once. |
|2005: Following an offseason trade to the Brewers organization, Cruz hit .289 with 27 homers and 81 RBIs between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He went 1-for-5 in a late-season stint with Milwaukee. |
|2006: Cruz spent the first four months of the season in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .302 with 20 homers in 103 games for Nashville. After a trade to Texas, he batted .223 with six homers in his first prolonged exposure to the Major Leagues.|
|2007-08: Cruz started the season slowly with Texas and was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .352 with 14 homers in 44 games. He was back with the RedHawks to open the following year and made PCL pitchers pay, smacking 37 homers, hitting .342 and earning league MVP honors. Cruz forced his way onto the Texas roster and hit .330 with seven homers after a late-August promotion.|