Position: Left-handed Pitcher
Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic by Ramon Perez in January 2009 as an 18-year old prospect.
Pitching for the DSL Tigers that summer, the young lefty turned in a very promising season with a 3.03 ERA in 15 games (six starts). He totaled 38 2/3 innings over that span, allowing only 27 hits and no home runs. Unfortunately, his often got him into trouble, as he walked 32 hitters and struck out 31 while also uncorking 10 wild pitches and committing four balks.
The Tigers quickly brought Cruz Stateside for the 2010 season and he rewarded their faith in him by pitching at three different levels, including reaching full-season ball.
Starting off in the GCL, Cruz posted a 7.20 ERA in five relief outings. He followed that up by notching his best ERA of the season – 2.08 – with short-season Connecticut. While with the CT-Tigers, he tossed 13 innings over nine outings and he allowed ten hits and six walks to go with 12 strikeouts.
The Tigers final move with Cruz in 2010 was to give him a shot at Low-A West Michigan in the season's final weeks. Cruz saw action in ten games with the Whitecaps, posting another strong ERA (2.79). In 19 1/3 innings opponents mustered 19 hits and ten walks off of Cruz while he fanned 13.
On a scouting level, Cruz has intrigued scouts for several years thanks to a quick arm and good pitchers frame. He has broad shoulders and his arm works well throughout his delivery. He generates exceptional arm speed that leads to surprising velocity.
His fastball will routinely sit at 89-81 mph but I have seen it as high as 94 in short stints in 2010. The ball comes out of his hand with ease and it gets on hitters quicker than they expect, allowing the velocity to play up. Despite his short stature, he generates good angle to the plate and doesn't keep the ball in the strike zone too long.
At times, Cruz's curveball can be absolutely filthy. He will occasionally snap off a legit 12-6 overhand curve that is a swing-and-miss pitch worth of easy plus grades. He presently lacks consistency with the pitch, particularly command, but he shows flashes of having two plus weapons.
Though he has a change-up in his back pocket, he was rarely forced to use it as a reliever in 2009 and 2010, but the Tigers are hoping to develop it further by having him work as a starter in 2011. Most scouts don't project it as more than a fringe-average pitch at best.
Though his arm works well in his delivery, Cruz's mechanics can lead to problems controlling the strike zone. He comes from a high arm slot and will often miss wildly both up and down. He has improved his control over the last two years, but is still below average, and his command won't ever project better than that either.
Most scouts see Cruz as a power-armed lefty reliever with potential for two pitches – fastball and curveball – that can miss bats. He is an aggressive pitcher that likes to have the ball in tough spots and he isn't afraid to go at hitters with his best stuff. If moved back to the bullpen, he could move quickly as a high leverage reliever.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Cruz hasn't had any health concerns during his two-plus year pro career. Though there is some effort in his mechanics and some scouts feel he is a little on the small side, he is built well enough that most feel he can handle the stress.
Despite currently sitting in the West Michigan rotation, it is unlikely that the Tigers actually intend to develop Cruz as a starter long term. Everything about his arsenal and approach screams reliever, and the expectation is that he will end up there in time.
That said, forcing him to utilize his third pitch for a summer is not a bad thing, and starting also affords him ample opportunity to improve his pitch sequencing and get more repetitions with his delivery to hopefully improve his control and consistency.
Cruz will pitch the entire season at just 20-years old and if he sees Lakeland at any point this summer he will be way ahead of the developmental curve. Once he settles into his likely bullpen role, he could shoot through multiple levels of the organization in one season, and one scout I spoke with believed he could be ready for a big league trial in 2013.
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