TCN 2012 Cardinals Prospect #16: Tony Cruz

The apparent leader in St. Louis' reserve catcher competition still has to earn it. Today's report is FREE!

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)

2011 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
16 C 8/18/1986 5-11 205 R R 2007 26th

School: Palm Beach Junior College, Florida

Selected 2011 stats

MEM 0.262 149 13 39 5 1 4 25 11 31 0 0.315 0.389 0.704
STL 0.262 65 8 17 5 0 0 6 6 13 0 0.333 0.338 0.672

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (15): Tony Cruz's 2011 season was a bittersweet combination as he struggled in Triple-A but at the same time he was able to show his stuff at the big league level, where he redeemed himself with solid play offensively and defensively. Once thought of has a possible offensive-oriented catching prospect, Cruz has been slowly making a name for himself as a solid defender and game caller as well. (It never hurts to have Yadier Molina as your mentor and one of your biggest supporters!)

At Memphis in 2011, Cruz seemingly regressed somewhat offensively with an increased strikeout rate, reduced walk rate, and disappointing power. On the bright side, his post All-Star Game numbers were much better in all areas except for power production. Strangely enough, Cruz had a significant home/road split in 2011 with his home numbers magnitudes better than his road numbers despite his home park of Memphis being one of the least hitter-friendly parks in the league.

Cruz goes to spring training in a head-on dogfight with Bryan Anderson to be the back up catcher on the major league club in 2012. The loser in that fight goes back to Memphis and would then be reliant on waiting on an injury to one of the major league catchers to get another shot. Cruz does have one advantage over Anderson in that he has shown that he can play both third base and first base as well as catch and that could tip the scales to his advantage.

Message board community (17): Cruz improved markedly from #29 to #17 on the community list this year, and honestly I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why - other than the name recognition as the result of his MLB cameo in 2011.

The 25-year-old backstop put up a fairly pedestrian performance in Triple-A this season, with a line of .262/.315/.389 to go along with a mediocre 29 percent caught stealing rate behind the dish. (To be fair, Tony's career caught stealing percent is a sturdy 44%.) The 26th round draft pick from 2007 is considered a better handler of pitchers than Bryan Anderson, who would seem to be his primary competition for an MLB backup role in 2012.

If Cruz can get back to gunning down baserunners at a 40%+ rate, he could have a career getting 150-200 at-bats per year in The Show. But right now, it's difficult to project a more prominent role than that for the Palm Beach native. - BobReed

Brian Walton (16): Having the confidence of one's coaches and teammates is huge. From indications, Cruz has that asset on his side, earned during his major league time in 2011.

For that reason, I see Cruz as having a decided edge to win the backup catcher's job with St. Louis in spring training. He would either need to lay an egg or Bryan Anderson would have to have a very strong camp for that to change, in my estimation. At this point, even if the Cardinals feel that way, they have no reason to prematurely declare a winner (or even a leader) in December, however.

Anderson's defense has not been universally accepted by the major league staff in his St. Louis trials to date. Though still relatively young in catching experience, Cruz has received better marks. Both players have minor league options remaining, meaning either could be sent back down without risk of being lost to the organization via waivers.

Now, having said all that and seeming most definitive, I will inject just a bit of uncertainty into the equation. Some of the 2011 coaches are gone. Mike Matheny has moved from an advisory role to the man making the decisions and is one of the few staffers to have praised Anderson publicly. Especially with a roster that is very set already, having a little camp competition is a good thing. Still, all things considered, I sense the job is Cruz' to lose.

Looking ahead, with a decent showing in 2012 and helped by a low pre-arbitration salary, Cruz could hold onto the backup catcher's role for several years into the future. If Molina leaves after the season as a free agent, I would expect the club to bring in someone else from outside to be the 2013 starter. First things first, however.

Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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