Padres Prospect Report: Luis Cruz

Luis Cruz spent his first two years in the Boston Red Sox farm system before a December 2002 deal sent Cesar Crespo east and Cruz to the San Diego Padres. Crespo had some major league experience, prompting the deal. In return, the Friars picked up potential and it may turn into something special, as the Padres brass is extremely high on the 19-year-old Mexican shortstop.

Luis Cruz, who turns 20 on February 10, doesn't seem to fit the prospect bill that many have laid out in terms of statistics.

‘Whoa,' you say. ‘The kid is a career .232 hitter in the minors!'

And to top it off, we add, he has a .321 on base percentage, .279 last year with the Fort Wayne Wizards. Yet, using the metrics that label a player a prospect: age, tools and performance, Cruz is a top talent in the San Diego Padres minor league system.

While numbers provide the pizzazz that often will separate a prospect from a career minor leaguer, youth and projected potential are often key factors in the evaluation process.

Originally signed as a 17 year old, last year, Cruz was the youngest player on the Wizards roster.

Cruz has already faced his share of adversity. The youngster fractured his left fibula in 2002 while trying to turn a double play, forcing him to miss two months of the season. He came back to play in three games at Augusta, despite being slated to finish the year rehabbing at the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Fla. That season was his toughest to date. He hit just .188 in 55 games before the injury and ended the season with the same mark.

Still the Padres and their scouts are simply enamored with this kid.

"The guy here that everyone is really high is Luis Cruz cause of his age and his body," said a Padres scout.

At 6-1, 185, the Padres are hoping Cruz will make an Alfonzo Soriano type jump in his development. He does not have the speed, but does possess the frame to do whatever he wants with the ball.

"This kid is so raw at the plate, but his instincts are excellent," the scout continued. "Give him some time with Robbie (Rob Deer) and he will start to take more pitches and get a feel for his zone. That is the key – teaching him to swing at pitches in his comfort zone. It will up his walks and still keep his strikeouts low."

Part of the reason he is so loved is due to his ability to make contact. Cruz struck out 55 times in 481 at bats playing in a league where everyone was older than him. His walk totals have improved since his minor league career began.

Cruz has a fluid swing that generates bat speed and power. Once he maximizes his frame, the 24 doubles he hit last year will start turning into more homers. Cruz hit eight in 2003 and drove in 53, third best on the team.

He was voted the Red Sox best minor league defensive player in 2002 by Baseball America. Looking at his stats from last year is misleading. He gets to balls no one else does and was rewarded with 42 errors on the season. His range is just so exceptional that he is able to get a glove on a ball that others would never touch, thus elevating his error totals.

Cruz is currently playing shortstop, but according to the Padres scout, he could end up moving:

"I don't know if that is where he will play. I could see him at third or at second."

Cruz will likely repeat Fort Wayne, but could be in Lake Elsinore sometime this season. Given his age, another year with the Wizards may be just what he needs to turn his .232 career average into .280+.

"He is a guy that everyone thinks can go," said the Padres scout.

L'est we remember, the Padres were also extremely high on 18 year old Andres Pagan, but he hasn't hit for the last three years and is now a 22 year old man that was demoted to Fort Wayne in 2003 and responded by hitting .187.

Cruz does not figure to remind any of us about the struggles of Pagan. His numbers all around this year indicate he is getting better. If he comes anywhere close to being the player the Padres hope he will be, he could be a star.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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