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Every team in baseball passed over Nelson Cruz, including the Rangers

Oct 13, 2011, 10:47 AM EDT

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Long before he became one of the league’s top sluggers and a postseason hero Nelson Cruz was passed over by every team in baseball, including the Rangers. His journey to playoff stardom is pretty remarkable, actually.

Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old by the Mets in 1998. Two years later they traded him to the A’s for journeyman backup infielder Jorge Velandia.

He spent four years in Oakland’s minor-league system, emerging as a good prospect, at which point the A’s traded Cruz to the Brewers for Keith Ginter. He spent two years in Milwaukee’s system, making his big-league debut in September of 2005, but then the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in a six-player swap that included Carlos Lee and Francisco Cordero as the big names.

Cruz played 41 games with the Rangers in 2006 and another 96 games in 2007, but hit just .231 with a .664 OPS. In the spring of 2008 he was out of minor-league options and the Rangers didn’t want to keep Cruz on the Opening Day roster, so they designated him for assignment, dropped him from the 40-man roster, and placed him on waivers.

Any of the other 29 teams could have claimed him for $20,000 … but they didn’t. Cruz passed through waivers unclaimed, at which point the Rangers assigned him to Triple-A for the first five months of the 2008 season. He finally earned a call-up in late August and went on to hit .330 with seven homers and a 1.030 OPS in 31 games down the stretch, forcing his way into the Rangers’ plans.

And the rest is history, as Cruz has hit .283 with 91 homers and an .885 OPS in 391 regular season games and .281 with 10 homers and a 1.027 OPS in 24 playoff games for the Rangers since going unclaimed and making his way back from Triple-A in late 2008.

Cruz didn’t make his big-league debut until age 25 and didn’t become a regular in the majors until age 28, but his minor-league performance was screaming out for opportunities before then. He didn’t thrive immediately in the majors, but Cruz hit .313 with 87 homers and a .996 OPS in 326 total games at Triple-A. He just needed an extended chance to prove those Triple-A numbers were no fluke and it took three trades and all 30 teams deciding he wasn’t worth a roster spot before that happened.

  1. stoutfiles - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    What’s your point? Any team could have traded for troubled outfielder Josh Hamiliton after his Tampa stint. Any team could have drafted Albert Pujols before the 13th round.

    Other than the rare 1st round success stories, you could plug every player into a story like this. Evaluating a baseball player is the ultimate crapshoot. Don’t be Captain Hindsight.

    • El Bravo - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:03 AM

      It’s Admiral Hindsight to you, buddy. The point being that it’s a good story how he finally made it to the MLB, pretty much right after his “prime” years. It’s a good story b/c he’s kicking ass right now. It’s topical. Surely, you see this.

  2. El Bravo - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Three Rangers posts in a row! Damn, Texas bias! BAHHHH! Go ahead, tell us something about Jim Crane now, why don’t you?

    • Alex K - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      You got me by three minutes with a version of bias post. My claim wasn’t just a Texas bias, it was a whole middle of the country bias.

  3. Old Gator - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    That’s what the idiot gets for painting a big red X in lamb’s blood on his door. Next time you’re throwing a birthday party, just tie some balloons to your mailbox.

  4. SmackSaw - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    He’s batting a strong .207. Real strong.

    • Kyle - Oct 13, 2011 at 2:09 PM

      Or, in other words, OPSing .913

  5. cur68 - Oct 13, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Sooooo…the Jose Bautista story isn’t exactly new, eh?

  6. humanexcrement - Oct 13, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    How is it with all the experienced scouts in the game, and the different approaches to analyzing young talent in the wake of “Moneyball” that a guy this good can be outright disregarded by every team in the game? I’m not being rhetorical here, I would really love to see someone answer that question. I guess some players just mature later than others. And yet Melky Cabrera and Yuni Betancourt never went a minute without a guaranteed roster spot. Weird.

    • byjiminy - Oct 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM

      But Melky Cabrera was a Yankee! He even started! So having him is like having a real live Yankee on your team! Of course you start him!

      (Betancourt, on the other hand, is a mystery.)

    • Alex K - Oct 13, 2011 at 3:18 PM

      He wasn’t a great prospect and he didn’t immediately light the majors on fire, so people branded him a AAAA player. Maybe his tools don’t match his numbers? There is any number of ways that a guy can be missed.

      Albert Pujols is probably going to end up one of the 5-10 best players in MLB history and he wasn’t drafted until the 13 round! There were and are questions about his age, but still a lot of people missed that boat. So I guess the best way to say it is – it happens.

  7. foreverchipper10 - Oct 13, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Why are there no sports headlines about this series being on Cruz control?

  8. cosanostra71 - Oct 13, 2011 at 11:15 PM

    I know that Betancourt was a solid enough defender early in his career with the Mariners. Never was much of a hitter though, still isn’t. Is he any good defensively still or no?

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