Q&A with Ismael Cruz

With Toronto very active in the International free agent market the past couple of years, FutureJays.com checks in with Blue Jays' International Scouting Director Ismael Cruz to get his thoughts on new signees Franklin Barreto and Richard Urena, what he's seen from Roberto Osuna and Alberto Tirado in the early going, who to watch out for from the DSL Jays team, and much, much more!

FutureJays.com: Give us your thoughts on Franklin Barreto. What can you tell us about his game?

Ismael Cruz: For us Barreto is one of these game-changing type of guys. You put him on the field and he wants to win. He'll bring a lot to the table. He has a plus-plus speed. He knows how to play the game which is hard to find with Latin guys [with] game experience and all of that. He has an above average arm and a bat that will play anywhere right now. If I had to have one guy to play anywhere I'd choose him because he's a tough guy, a grinder, and he's a winner.

FutureJays.com: Is there a guy at the big league level that he compares to style-wise?

Cruz: The type of game he plays is [Brett] Lawrie, he plays hard. He's that type of guy. He'll run hard, he plays hard. He'll play his ass off for you. He doesn't talk a lot but he plays a lot so he's the perfect guy.

FutureJays.com: He's obviously a young guy and has a lot to learn, but what is the one main thing he needs to improve going forward in your opinion?

Cruz: I love this kid but maybe he needs to be more outgoing.

FutureJays.com: Let's move on to Richard Urena. What can you tell us about his game?

Cruz: He's a shortstop, lefty hitter. He's going to stay at short. A good arm, an above average arm, and he can run. He needs to improve a little bit on the run but he's a hitter with power. The power is going to come sooner than later. I found out after we signed him that he really has some home run power, he's developing. He's a great kid to work with too.

FutureJays.com: Same question with him -- if there's something he should hone in on what would that be?

Cruz: Probably speed but then again you're talking about a 16-year old kid. He's more like a 6.9 runner [in the 60-yard dash] so he's a good runner but for me he could use a little more speed.

FutureJays.com: Let's talk about some of the these younger Latin American guys who got their debut seasons out of the way. Talk about what you've seen from Roberto Osuna so far.

Cruz: Well it's been like watching a Major Leaguer player against rookie [level] guys. His feel for pitching is extremely advanced. He's a great kid with a great attitude. Obviously he has a plus-plus changeup to go with an above average fastball and nothing rattles him. It can be the fifth inning with the bases loaded and it's like the first inning for him. I have a great feeling about this kid. He's going to be special. Actually he is special right now and he's going to take off quick.

FutureJays.com: What do you think he needs to work on?

Cruz: He doesn't need anything, just leave him like that. Right now he's perfect.

FutureJays.com: Let's talk about Alberto Tirado too then because he's another one with a big arm. What are your thoughts on him?

Cruz: Tirado has the plus fastball, great makeup, he's a winner, and will battle for you. His ceiling is high, extremely high for him. I like him a lot.

FutureJays.com: What do you think he needs to work on the most?

Cruz: He just needs game experience. I think the more he pitches the better he's going to get; pitch selection, things like that but again he's just 17 years old. He doesn't have that feeling [for pitching] that Osuna has but he's not far behind. He just needs to play more games.

FutureJays.com: Give me your early impressions of shortstop Dawel Lugo. The numbers weren't great last year but he seems to have some real abilities.

Cruz: He's still young and he finished the year a lot better than when he started, and that means he needs that game experience that most Latin American signees need. He plays an outstanding shortstop and the bat is there, and the power is going to come. His running speed needs to improve a little bit but he makes quick moves at shortstop so that's perfect.

FutureJays.com: Which of your Dominican Summer League players should be watching out for next season as guys who could come States-side and make some noise?

Cruz: Right now we have three pitchers -- Oscar Cabrera, we have Jose Fernandez, and Alejandro Solarte -- that did very good in the Dominican. For position players we have [Rolando] Segovia who was the MVP of the team. He's a shortstop, second baseman from Venezuela, 17 years old and has some power for a little guy that can run and knows how to play the game. He was one of the most advanced young guys that we had over there.

FutureJays.com: You named the guys who did well. I know all too well though that down in the Dominican Summer League that there's always some talented players who don't exactly put up numbers right away. Are there any guys like that who could surprise some folks?

Cruz: We have to wait and see but we have a couple of outfielders with Andres De Aza and Luis Garcia who could be impact guys if not next year but down the road. We have a shortstop Edwin Fuentes who is a Colombian kid that we're very high on. Again though, these kids need experience. Pitching-wise we have [Miguel] Castro, we have [Jimmy] Cordero, we have some kids coming over. We are happy with the talent we have down there.

FutureJays.com: Talk about Fuentes in particular please. What kind of player is he?

Cruz: Fuentes is advanced playing the game. Average speed, above average arm, quick at short and he knows what he's doing, but he needs to get a little bit stronger. He's one of the kids who will benefit from being down there maybe another year or half a year to get him strong enough to come to the States. He's going to be a special guy but we're patient with him. We don't want to rush him over here.

FutureJays.com: You've only been in the position here with the Blue Jays for a year now. How hard has it been to evaluate the guys who were already in the system before you got here since your main focus is obviously evaluating the talent you're trying to bring into the organization?

Cruz: It hasn't been a difficult year but we've worked a lot this year. I'm wearing a lot of hats that I didn't do with the Mets. It was a little difficult to come to the States and follow the guys but a lot of them are guys I used to scout when I was with the Mets. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how some of them have developed from the last time I saw them when they were 16 [years old]. Since I'm also the guy in charge of getting the new guys on July 2nd and rebuild the Dominican operation it has been hard to come to the States and watch [some of the guys]. These kids are great. They're dedication is there and I'm here to help them.

FutureJays.com: Because you're more familiar with the big July 2nd signs, how has Jesus Gonzalez changed since you last saw him as an amateur?

Cruz: He's developed in a good way. [When he was an amateur] he was all baby fat but that's now gone. I saw him in Spring Training and he was one of the better guys here. I know he got hit by a pitch in the wrist -- I don't know if he was afraid in the beginning but he ended up better in the [Gulf Coast] League. He's going to be 18 years old with a year experience in the States and it will be a big year. I know he has the power to do it, the arm to play the outfield, and I see him being a power guy down the road.

FutureJays.com: Last question -- and it's kind of a state of the union type deal -- are you happy with the state of the Latin American program as it stands right now with the Blue Jays?

Cruz: Yeah, I see that Alex [Anthopoulos] has put a lot of emphasis on bringing the program up and making it a smooth transition for the guys coming over from Latin America to the States. In some places each one is treated separately, a separate program, but here we're trying to have the smoothest transition possible. We've rebuilt the Latin program, brought in some scouts and some player personnel that we feel are doing great. We've expanded in Venezuela and we're trying to expand in some other parts of the world, trying to make the Jays more of a global presence than they were before. I went to a few places [last] year where people were like 'the Blue Jays are here? We haven't seen the Blue Jays in years'. That makes me happy. That means we're getting out there. Our guys are going everywhere trying to find the best guys to sign. Time will tell.

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