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:
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
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.