Someone Doesn’t Want To Be In Oklahoma Anymore

I’d imagine that most of you have probably heard of the term “AAAA player”, the characterization given to guys who achieve success in Triple-A but haven’t shown that they can sustain success in the major leagues. These guys put up gaudy numbers in the Pacific Coast and International Leagues, but for various reasons, they get exploited by major leaguers.

Perhaps the best of these Quad-A guys currently is Nelson Cruz, a power hitting outfield in the Rangers organization. Cruz has been destroying Triple-A arms for years, starting with Nashville in 2005, when he hit .269/.382/.490 as a 25-year-old. That wasn’t enough to get him a job in Milwaukee, so he went back to Nashville for 2006 and hit .302/.376/.528 before being traded to Texas in the Carlos Lee deal. The Rangers gave him 138 plate appearances after the trade, but he didn’t impress, putting up a .223/.261/.385 mark that got him sent back to Triple-A for the 2007 season. In response, he went bananas on the PCL, hitting .352/.430/.698 before Texas decided to give him another shot. He failed again, however, posting a .235/.286/.384 mark that was similar to his ’06 time with the Rangers. Between 2006 and 2007, Cruz accumulated 570 underwhelming plate appearances, showing an overly aggressive approach at the plate and an inability to hit breaking balls. These flaws saw him head to Oklahoma again to begin the 2008 season.

They apparently don’t throw breaking balls there, because if you thought he was good down there last year, you haven’t seen anything yet. Through the first 129 trips to the plate this year, Cruz is terrorizing the PCL to the tune of .375/.520/.781. In addition to his prodigious power (he’s leading the PCL in home runs with 11), Cruz has adopted a more selective approach at the plate. His walk rate has nearly doubled and he’s cut his strikeouts down as well, leading to an impressive 27/18 walk to strikeout ratio. By letting pitchers put him on base and waiting for his pitch to drive, he’s gone from a cleanup hitter to a monster. No one in Triple-A is good enough to get him out, and they’re doing well if he doesn’t just end up rounding the bases on his own.

At some point, some organization is going to have to decide that perhaps Nelson Cruz has earned another shot to shake the “AAAA player” label. He’s 27, entering his physical peak, and his power is being wasted on the Pacific Coast League. Clearly, there’s a major league job somewhere for this guy, isn’t there?

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

6 Responses to “Someone Doesn’t Want To Be In Oklahoma Anymore”

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  1. Tom Au says:

    What do you have to say about Pirates’ pitcher John van Benschoten, who has had two failed trips to the majors (2004 and 2007), was sent back to AAA both times, and has gotten progressively better there. He was recently brought back to the Pirates’ bullpen after the ouster of Matt Morris. Could the third time be the charm?

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  2. Jason says:

    Sounds like Mr. Bavasi should be making a phone call down to Texas, yes?

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  3. dan says:

    Jason, I think you’re confusing your own desires (winning) with the Mariners’ internal goals (no clue what those are).

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  4. John says:

    He didn’t get called up because unlike Boggs he was not on the 40 man roster and calling him up would have forced the team to make a move there.

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  5. SS says:

    Dave – is this guy similar to BUCKY JACOBSEN or do u think his upside is better than BUCKY ?

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  6. Jared says:

    Cards RH Anthony Reyes fits this label. He dominates AAA hitters, putting up gaudy K-rates and low ERAs, but outside of a terrific start in the ’06 World Series, he hasn’t translated his success to the Majors. The Cards just sent him back down to Memphis after he posted an ERA over 6 out of the ‘pen for them so far this year.

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