|© MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Path of the Pros: Nelson Cruz11/11/2009 10:00 AM ET
By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com
What do Jorge Velandia, Keith Ginter and Laynce Nix have in common? All three were traded at one point for eventual All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz.
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."
Minor League career breakdown