Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

The 2008 Florida League Mid-Season All-Star, Tony Cruz burst on the scene in 2007 playing through four levels of ball in the Cardinals organization. This year a season-ending hand injury stalled his progress in July, but he's healthy again and swinging a hot bat in Hawaii, begging the question, is his game on Cruz-control to the majors?

I've always been intrigued by players drafted on the second day, who aren't given much of a chance to make it to major leagues, but still often become my favorite players in the organization, while they fly under the radar of other pundits and often even the St. Louis Cardinal's organization.

It could go back to my days as a 6'4", 132 pound recruit, in Marine Corps basic training. Not given much of a chance to survive or earning the title of United States Marines, a senior drill instructor told me on graduation day, "Everytime I turned around, I didn't expect to see you there and yet there you were, standing tall. " Sixteen weeks from the day of my arrival at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and 40 pounds of new muscle later, (thanks to 16 weeks of double-rations), I became a United States Marine.

Tony Cruz, is one of those players taken in the 26th round of the 2007 draft, who has become one of my favorite players in the Cardinals farm system. Cruz , not given much of a chance to make it to the major leagues, may end up surprising a few people like a Marine recruit did over 30 years ago.

In his first season as a professional, Cruz played his way through four levels of the Cardinals' system, finishing 2007 season a line of 299/.347/.451, a line good enough to catch the eye of a couple of key staff members at the Birdhouse.

Cruz just missed making's staff's collective listing in the 2008 Birdhouse Top 40 Prospects Rankings last year, despite the fact that managing editor Brian Walton and myself, both had him ranked at #39 in our personal prospect rankings.

Cruz burst on the scene in July of 07 for Quad Cities. He recorded at least one hit in eight of his first nine games with the team, along with at least one RBI in eight of nine. In his first six games he hit .417 with ten hits and seven RBIs. It seemed like I was writing about Tony in the daily post game summaries almost every day. He appeared to always come up with a key hit, hitting .330 with runners in scoring positions.

In his sophomore season, he got off to a good start before suffering a season-ending hand injury in July; Cruz was a fixture batting in the third hole of the lineup and was hitting .279 with eight home runs and 58 RBIs for the Class-A advanced Palm Beach Cardinals.

A month before his injury, the Palm Beach Cardinals third baseman/catcher Tony Cruz was named to the Florida State League All-Star team and was invited to represent his club in the League's Home Run Derby.

To put his early 08 campaign into perspective, Cruz was leading the Cardinals at the time in RBIs with 34 and was tied with the Cardinals' 2008 Minor League Player of the Year, Daryl Jones, for most home runs among players on the active Palm Beach roster with five. Cruz was also tied with Donovan Solano for the team lead in doubles with 11, not bad for a kid taken late in the 07 draft.

Drafted as a third baseman, Cruz is not known for his defense, the Cardinals have him splitting playing time between third base and catching, and he's seeing some playing time this winter at first base.

Cruz is currently playing what could be considered almost a rehab assignment in the Hawaii Winter League for the Honolulu Sharks, seeing playing time behind the plate and at first base. From all the reports we can ascertain, Cruz appears to be 100% healthy and showing no signs that his hand injury is affecting his bat.

In his first game in Hawaii on September the 30th, after being sideline since July, Cruz went 4-for-6 with three doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.

You have to love this kid; he's playing out of his natural position most of the time now and still exceeding the expectations for what you would normally expect from a 26th round draft pick, in just his second season.

As of today, after nine games in Hawaii, Cruz is hitting .394 (13-for-34) with six doubles, a triple and seven RBIs, while scoring seven runs. He continues to punish the ball with runners on in scoring position, (a stat that I'm in love with) hitting .364 (4-for-11) with three doubles and six RBIs.

I'm not ready to say that Tony's game is on Cruz-control to the majors, but I'm saying, he is someone who bears watching and who should make it into the Birdhouse's coveted Top 40 Prospect Rankings for 2009.

In addition, Cruz's bat, along with his ability to play multiple positions, could earn him a ticket to the show, which is going to come as a surprise to some people like an old drill instructor was, back in my leaner days.

I wouldn't be surprised that someday, a coach or a manager is going to turn around and there will be Tony Cruz in a major league uniform, standing tall, with his bat and probably three gloves in his hand.

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