Earlier in July, Class A Loons manager Jeremy Rodriguez noticed Oneil Cruz was using a heavier bat. The coaching staff gave the Dodgers No. 20 prospect a lighter piece of lumber and the move is paying off. "He's young, he's going to make those little mistakes," Rodriguez said. "But I think,
Earlier in July, Class A Loons manager Jeremy Rodriguez noticed Oneil Cruz was using a heavier bat. The coaching staff gave the Dodgers No. 20 prospect a lighter piece of lumber and the move is paying off.
"He's young, he's going to make those little mistakes," Rodriguez said. "But I think, for him, going back to the bat that he used early in the season and just staying with it is helping him."
Cruz collected a career-high five hits, including a homer, and drove in three runs to power Great Lakes to a 10-0 win over Cedar Rapids at Perfect Game Field. The 18-year-old also doubled, singled three times and scored three runs.
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Cruz, who also went deep Wednesday night, is 9-for-17 over his last four games. Rodriguez believes the recent success boils down to a pregame routine for the native of the Dominican Republic.
"He showed a really good batting practice," Rodriguez said. "He used more gap to gap -- he wasn't just trying to hit home runs, he was using all parts of the field. He's still hitting home runs, but didn't really try to do too much during batting practice. It really turned over to the game. He did what the game asked him to do and it worked out for him."
Over 15 games in July, Cruz sports a .304/.381/.554 slash line with eight extra-base hits and eight RBIs. Loons hitting coach Jair Fernandez has worked on refining Cruz's approach at the plate so the 6-foot-6, 175-pound infielder can take advantage of his raw strength.
"He has a lot of power, crazy power," Rodriguez said. "When he tries to hit home runs, it doesn't really work out for him. When he tries a low line drive or just make solid contact, that's when the ball jumps off the bat. Jair has been doing a really good job during batting practice and staying on him to make sure he stays within himself and not trying to do too much."
With two outs in the top of the second inning, Cruz fouled off the first pitch from Imani Abdullah, then smacked the second offering off the top of the left-field bleachers and out of the park for his eighth roundtripper of the year.
"The first pitch he swung at, he hit it pretty well, hit it a little too high in the same area," Rodriguez said. "I found out that the pitch he hit out -- oppo -- was actually an inside pitch. He did a pretty good job keeping his hands inside the baseball and not trying to hook that pitch.
"A lot of young hitters will try to pull, so he does a nice job staying inside and trying to go the other way."
Two innings later, the third baseman ripped a single to right and followed in the sixth with an opposite-field double down the left-field line. Not wanting to fall into a two-strike hole, Cruz took advantage of some mistakes early in the count.
"He's very aggressive, he definitely is," Rodriguez said. "He likes jumping on the fastball early. ... He does a good job laying off pitches down, but I think he knows that the best pitch to hit for him is going to be early on in the count. He likes to jump on it."
With two strikes in the seventh, Cruz ripped a single up the middle to score Cody Thomas and Dodgers No. 26 prospect Brendon Davis. Leading off the ninth, the lefty hitter singled to right.
Cruz is hitting .249, but Rodriguez sees more than just numbers for a player still making adjustments.
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"I was extremely happy," the Loons skipper said. "He's been definitely putting a lot of work in. He's had some ups and downs, but this being his first full season, that's going to happen. He's made a huge leap coming straight from the Dominican Republic to low-A -- you don't see that very often. So for him to be handling it the way he has been, I'm very proud. I know the whole coaching staff was excited for him."
Saige Jenco added four hits and three runs out of the leadoff spot, while Cristian Santana and Thomas collected two hits apiece for the Loons.
In his Midwest League debut, 17-year-old Melvin Jimenez (1-0) surrendered one hit and two walks while striking out four in four innings of relief for Great Lakes.
Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.