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January 2, 2014

Hot Stove Scouting Report

Nelson Cruz

by Ryan Parker

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See our introduction to the Hot Stove Scouting Report series here.

Player Name: Nelson Cruz

Date Filed: 12/26/2013

Throws

Bats

Primary Pos

Secondary Pos

R

R

RF

NA

Swing Breakdown

Unique set of mechanics. Very rotational for a right-handed hitter. Upright and open stance where he lays the bat flat across his shoulders, only raising the bat once the swing initiates. Some years the back elbow is extremely high and other years the elbow is even with his shoulders. Will tinker with both his hands and stride. He is one of the few big leaguers strong enough to nearly wrap the bat behind his head and still catch up to major-league fastballs. In the start of 2013 Cruz used a high leg lift but scratched this in favor of his traditional stride of setting the front foot down on his toes very early in the swing. Great balance and strength allow him to have some mechanical issues in his swing and still hammer baseballs. Tends to sit back on balls.

Following his front-foot landing his hips slide just a bit as he sinks into his back leg. Opens hips early, allowing for higher torque at the expense of plate coverage, particularly low in the zone on the outer third. Once the bat launches he has well above-average bat speed coming through the zone on a flat plane. Cruz gets lots of extension, allowing for his power to play to all fields. When Cruz swings he does not get cheated.

Here’s the swing in action.

Approach

Mildly aggressive approach. Won’t shorten up when behind in the count. Always looking to drive the ball. Loves to hit fastballs and sits on them early in the count. Not a player who will work the count. Better approach against lefties. Becomes more patient and less likely to chase. Stays back on the ball to the point where it looks like he’s swinging from his heels at times. Will rack up strikeouts not because of poor plate discipline but due to a below-average skill set for making contact.

Makeup

Teams will decide on a personal basis whether PED findings are a mark against Cruz’s makeup. At the very least he can provide perspective on a number of fronts: grinding through the minors to reach the show, recovering from a huge gaffe in the World Series, and now playing post PED discovery. On the field he is an intense competitor but can keep things light by cracking a smile when appropriate. Cruz has come up huge in big spots with numerous walk-off home runs and a historic playoff run in 2011.

Breakdown of Tools

Hit Tool

Grade

40

Cruz will never be a high average guy going forward. Much of the utility in his hit tool relies on his strength and bat speed, both of which will decline as he ages. Covers the inner third of the plate very well thanks to his hips clearing so early in the swing. Stays up the middle enough to force teams to play him mostly straight up defensively. Cruz does not have great bat control and this can be exploited by hard breaking stuff. Looks to extend arms and pitchers play off this by getting him to chase pitches just off the lower third of the zone. Swings through too many pitches in the zone. His current set of mechanics is not built to allow him to hit for a high average.

Power

Grade

60

Raw power is an easy 70 but in-game power plays lower. He will swing through hanging breaking balls and give away at bats. He can put the ball over the fence to all fields. As long as the pitcher keeps the ball low Cruz isn’t likely to hit one out. Homers tend to come from two spots. Those spots are belt high inside or high and outside. May have one 30-homer season left.

Speed

Grade

40

Faster runner than expected. Actually clocked above-average times to first base from the right side (4.3). Takes a long time to accelerate and not a threat to steal when on base. Runs hard for balls in the outfield. Very slow acceleration showed up again in the field. Numerous factors going against Cruz in terms of speed including weight, age, and his history of hamstring injuries. Should have enough speed left to stick in right field for the immediate future.

Defense

Grade

35

Very slow initial breaks on balls in the outfield. Seems to be more comfortable going to balls hit to his right. On line drives and hard groundballs Cruz appears almost passive. Struggles with balls hit over his head. Has to swivel head around to track ball and will lose a step on his already questionable routes. Much of Cruz’s defensive value comes from his big throwing arm.

Arm

Grade

70

Very strong arm. Decently quick release for an outfielder and ball comes out his hand on a straight path without any fade or tail. Very accurate with his throws as well. Has not committed a throwing error in the last three years. Forces runners to hesitate about taking the extra base when the ball in his vicinity.

Batting Trends

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHP

vs. RHP

Batted Ball Percentage

Batted Ball Percentage

GB

LD

FB

GB

LD

FB

9.16%

3.98%

3.39%

6.80%

3.23%

5.98%

Chase Percentage (Out of Strike Zone Swings)

Chase Percentage (Out of Strike Zone Swings)

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

23.44%

40.54%

42.42%

32.64%

37.58%

41.33%

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

4.50%

15.15%

18.56%

9.99%

18.06%

32.20%

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

A no. 5 hitter on a first-division team.

Offensive production should for the next year at least. Between his age, injury history, and swing it is unlikely Cruz is a long-term solution anywhere.

Years expected to perform at current level: 1-2

Strengths

Grown man strength at the plate and a big arm in the field. Constant threat to leave the yard in any count. Should produce 20+ HRs for the length of his next contract.

Weaknesses

Too many swings and misses from pitches in the zone. His hitting ability is predicated almost entirely on physical gifts that will naturally decline over time. Below average in the field. Long list of prior injuries.

Means of Exploitation

Attack Nelson with fastballs or hard breaking stuff low and off the plate. Throw breaking balls in fastball counts and Cruz will still go after them with bad results. Any plan of attack against Cruz needs to be evaluated early in the year as his tendencies and hot zones change from year to year. 2013 saw Cruz demolish anything high and in the zone while 2012 saw Cruz hunting pitches low and over the middle or in off the plate.

Conclusion

Cruz is not a player a team will build a lineup around. He will add length to any batting order and barely scrape by in the outfield. Statistically look for 20-25 bombs and 85 RBIs with a whole lot of strikeouts. Expect a DL stint for some injury in 2014. Cruz seems unlikely to get any sort of long-term deal. A likely fit for Nellie would be an American League team that could offer a two-year deal with an option for a third.

Ryan Parker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ryan's other articles. You can contact Ryan by clicking here

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