April 15, 2010
The Ultimate Late Bloomer
Nelson Cruz is proving that his breakout 2009 was not a fluke. The Rangers right fielder homered again Wednesday night, raising his major league-leading total to six, in a 6-2 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field. He made some history in the process.
Cruz became the first player since 1952, the first year records are available, to hit home runs in six different games over the first eight games of a season. Prior to his solo blast in the third inning off losing pitcher Justin Masterson, Cruz had been one of eight hitters to homer in five different games in the first seven games of a season, joining Willie Mays, Dale Murphy, Kirby Puckett, Sandy Alomar Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Luis Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez.
Mays and Puckett are in the Hall of Fame and Griffey and Rodriguez are likely to join them. While Cruz is an extreme longshot to reach Cooperstown, he is building on last season's performance when he hit 33 homers and was selected to the All-Star Game in his first full year in the major leagues.
Rangers manager Ron Washington is not surprised that Cruz has come back with a strong showing to start 2010. Though Cruz is 29, Washington believes he is a late bloomer as he was an aspiring automobile mechanic in his native Dominican Republic and did not play any organized baseball until he was 17.
"You never know when guys like that are going to develop," Washington said. "What I do know is he hit 33 home runs and made the All-Star team last year. It isn't a fluke when you do something like that. The guy has legitimate big-league power."
Cruz made his major-league debut with the Brewers in 2005 then spent parts of the 2006-08 seasons with the Rangers. His most playing time came in 2007 but he hit just .235/.287/.384 with nine home runs in 307 at-bats.
It seemed Cruz had pigeon-holed himself as a "4A" player, too good for Triple-A but not good enough for the major leagues. His lack of major-league success was in direct contrast to being named the Brewers' minor-league player of the year in 2005 and the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Player in 2008. Yet, Cruz persevered.
"We gave him a second chance last season and he took advantage of it," Washington said. "It just takes some guys longer than others. That's why you can never give up too soon on a player with talent."