Has Nelson Cruz Broken His Quad-A Ceiling?

Perhaps the most pejorative term in scouting parlance is “Quad-A.” It’s a term loosely applied to player who can dominate in the Pacific Coast League or the International League, but just doesn’t possess the skills to thrive at the highest level of competition.

Coming into the 2008 season, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz appeared to fit the label to a T. The 6-3, 230 pounder (who also toiled in the Mets and Athletics farm systems) was acquired along with Carlos Lee as part of a 2006 deadline deal with the Brewers that shipped Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Julian Cordero to Milwaukee. Cruz creamed the ball at AAA, but he fell flat on his face in two stints with the Rangers in 2006 and 2007:

2006

AAA (Brewers): .302/.373/.528, 10.2 BB%, 27 K%, .226 ISO in 371 AB
Rangers: .223/.261/.385, 5.1 BB%, 24.6 K%, .162 ISO in 130 AB

2007

AAA (Rangers): .352/.426/.698, 11.5 BB%, 21 K%, .346 ISO in 162 AB
Rangers: .235/.287/.384, 6.4 BB%, 28.3 K%, .150 ISO in 307 AB

Cruz looked like the classic high-power, low-contact slugger that could bash in the PCL but couldn’t cut it in the majors. At 26 and with two failed opportunities to establish himself, Cruz looked destined to ride the AAA bus circuit for years to come.

In 2008, Cruz decided to turn into Oklahoma’s answer to Barry Bonds, hitting a scorching .342/.426/.695 in 383 AB at AAA, with a 12.8 BB% and a 22.7 K%. But, unlike the previous years, Cruz continued to murder the ball upon his recall to Texas. In 115 AB, he batted .330/.421/.609, belting 7 home runs. He drew walks at a healthy clip (12.9 BB%) while striking out in about one quarter of his at-bats (24.3%). So, has Cruz broken out?

No. Sure, Cruz’s AAA line was legitimately impressive, but we’re talking about a 28 year-old whose skill set remains the same as it was entering the year: impressive power, but just decent plate patience and lofty strikeout rates. His small-sample mashing might engender lofty expectations, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Cruz had a .388 average on balls in play, a very high number that will regress. Also, the chances of a guy striking out so often hitting .330 are essentially zero.

In 557 career major league at-bats (roughly a year’s worth of playing time), Cruz is a .251/.312/.431 hitter, with 7.8% walk rate and a 26.4% K rate. For 2009, Marcel projects a .258/.324/.435 line. Expecting something along those lines seems reasonable. However, that’s a level of production that you probably want to shoot higher than for your lineup. Cruz has his uses on a major league roster as a power bat, but keep in mind that he’s a 28 year-old minor league slugger, not a hot young prospect. Don’t be fooled by that small sample size.




Print This Post

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


8 Responses to “Has Nelson Cruz Broken His Quad-A Ceiling?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Mike Ketchen says:

    What about the James projection? He has him down for raking the ball in his projection.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Isaac says:

    I’m fairly new to Bill James’ projections, but he seems to be awfully optimistic with some of his projections for youngsters. I understand that Matt Weiters is a stud prospect but his BJ projection is off the charts.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. For players with such limited major league samples such as Cruz, Marcel is mostly worthless. The guideline is to basically ignore Marcel for any player with a reliability score below 0.6 – Cruz is at 0.67, so he’s barely above that threshold.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. I have to agree with David. I’m not a fan of Marcel in the case of young players. Marcel I have always looked at more as a baseline that players will be at their worst. They are low with PA/AB/R/RBI?etc.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. I wouldn’t go that far, Troy. In a comparison of projection systems, Marcel is pretty close in accuracy to all the other, more complicated systems. It doesn’t have a bias to understating player performance. However, because it doesn’t include minor league data, it doesn’t do well with inexperienced major leaguers.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Jim says:

    It’s not like Cruz has ever had too much of a chance to prove himself at the majors. Sometimes players take even a full season (all at the same time) to adjust and start hitting well at the majors. If you want to talk about his 2006 campaign as something profoundly meaningful then you’ll have to talk about 2008 the same way, because he only got 130 at bats in 06. His walk rate nearly doubled in 08. Maybe it’s a fluke, but maybe it is a sign of an improved batting eye. The rate remained relatively constant between 06 and 07. One more thing: It is a small sample size, but his LD% was way up over both his previous seasons, another good sign.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. David Golebiewski says:

    I certainly don’t think it’s impossible that Cruz proves me wrong here, but I just don’t see much of a reason to expect more than a .250-.260ish hitter with just mild control of the strike zone. That’s somewhat useful, but my main point was just to not expect TOO much based on a little more than 100 at-bats.

    Stranger things have happened, though.

    Thanks for reading, guys.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Larry Yocum says:

    I wrote a piece on Cruz last season when he was just given a chance again by the Rangers and I asked some of the same questions.

    http://www.baseballguys.com/index.php/rookie-report/what-does-the-future-hold-nelson-cruz.html

    I don’t think it was just a 100 AB stint as you mention in your article. There are some things distinctly different about Cruz’s discipline at the plate. He doubles his BB/K ratio last season from previous years and he drew more walks to go along with his increasing power. His career 72% contact rate jumped up to 78% as well. Something was different about his approach to the plate and he brought it with him to the major leagues. He continued to make decent contact.

    I don’t expect him to maintain a .388 BABIP, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t hit above .280 with 30+ HR power if he is striking out 23% of the time like say a Jason Bay.

    He has continued to rake in Winterball as well with a .362-8-30-19-5 line in 105 AB’s. I think he is moving past the AAAA level. If he bats 4th next year as the Rangers have given early indications that he will, then he could be next year’s biggest surprise.

    P.S.- Why does James only forcast a limited number of games? Seems like he should be able to play a decent amount if Bradley is walking and Cruz has a full-time gig. 28 HR’s becomes 33 if he plays in 150 games.

    Vote -1 Vote +1