A forgotten player, that’s what we could call the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz. A power hitter that used to have speed, Cruz has lost his ability to steal bases due to continuing leg issues, and Josh Hamilton is no longer his running mate now that he has signed with the Angels. Because of those factors Cruz rarely is mentioned when talks get around power hitting outfielders (check out his current ADP is seeing him go off the board with the 117th selection overall). Why should you be interested in Cruz if he falls in your mixed league draft? If you’ve got five minutes I’ll be happy to explain to you why.
Cruz went 30/20 in 2009, his first big league season of more than 307 at-bats. The sky seemed to be the limit for the athletic, power hitting monster out of Texas. Alas, he’s never reached those homer or steals totals again. Here are his marks in each category since 2009.
2009: 33 homers, 20 steals
2010: 22 homers, 17 steals
2011: 29 homers, nine steals
2012: 24 homers, eight steals
Let’s deal with the steals first.
Cruz has solid speed, and obviously knows how to swipe a bad, but the problem is that he is always seemingly dealing with some injury to his bottom half. As a result, he’s just not running anymore. The last two years he has attempted 14 and 12 steals. Remember, he went for 37 steals in 2009-10. Those days aren’t likely to come back, so 10 should be the upside of expectations with Cruz.
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As for the power with Nelson, it’s all about at-bats. Oddly, Cruz had a career best 585 at-bats last year and he only went deep 24 times. The previous three years, while he was averaging 28 homers a season, his average at-bat total was 445. IF he can stay healthy 30 homers seem very doable for Cruz. In fact, per 550 at-bats in his career Cruz has averaged 29 homers a season. Why did his total drop last season relative to his at-bat total? The reason can be explained with two measures. (1) He posted his lowest fly ball rate in four years at 40.8 percent (his career mark is 43.3 percent). (2) His HR/F ratio was a five year low at 13.1 percent (career 15.9 percent). Moreover, in three of the previous four seasons his HR/F ratio was over 18.5 percent. If both numbers return to ‘normal,’ as they easily could in 2013 and he stays healthy, that 30 homer season is coming.
As for the run production, Cruz is one of four outfielders to have at least 76 RBIs each of the past four seasons even though he has averaged just 480 at-bats a season (the others are Ryan Braun, Nick Swisher and Torii Hunter). Last season, with his health (159 games), he drove in a career bets 90 runners.
The batting average pretty much it what it is with Cruz. A .268 career hitter, you need to put out of your head that .318 mark in 2010 (399 at-bats) and that .330 average in 2008 (115 at-bats). In three of the last four seasons he has hit .260, .263 and .260. His career BB/K rate is 0.36. His career BABIP is .303. His career line drive rate is 16.9 percent. Nothing there suggests that he’s anything other than the batting average producer that he has appeared to be for the majority of his career.
Cruz doesn’t have Josh Hamilton to ride shotgun to this season, and that’s a concern. However, some people may take that thought too far leaving Cruz as a potentially solid add on draft day. The Rangers still have strong hitters in Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre, and guys like Mitch Moreland, David Murphy, A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman can all hit too. It may not be the prettiest group the Rangers have ever put together, but the offense should still be plentiful in Texas. Don’t reach on Cruz, you won’t have to given his ADP, but if you need some power in the outfield and the pickings are starting to get a wee bit thin, don’t forget that if Cruz can repeat last seasons games played total that a run at 30 homers and 100 RBIs isn’t at all out of the question.
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By Ray Flowers