The feel-good story of former Isotope Luis Cruz and his stellar climb to the Dodgers has taken over Major League Baseball. From ESPN to MLB.com and even Yahoo! Sports, no one saw it coming.
Unless you were an Isotopes fan.
The writing was on the wall the whole time. A powerful bat that was outpacing the eventual PCL MVP Adam Eaton in doubles (31) and just one extra-base hit (42) shy of Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, matched with a slick glove at shortstop, Cruz was everything and more of a future Major League ballplayer.
And with over 1,200 games in the minors, Cruz had enough experience to make an easy transition to the big leagues. Even if getting there was the most difficult part.
“Sometimes when you’re in the minor leagues you get frustrated, but I never quit,” Cruz told the LA Times. “I always thought I could play here. My dad and my family supported me all the time and now I’m here and very happy.”
So are the Dodgers, who have seen Cruz post the second-highest batting average (behind Matt Kemp) on the team at .295. In a slumping Los Angeles lineup, the former Isotope is proving to be one of the biggest offensive sparks, especially in clutch situations, by hitting an incredible .356 (21-for-59) with runners in scoring position.
Not to mention his three-run homer on Friday that lifted the Dodgers to an 8-5 win over the Cardinals.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s like a dream for me,” Cruz told ESPN. “I’m just trying to go out there and give a hundred percent and play hard every time. I’m having the chance to come through in big situations. I’m not going to say I’m lucky, but I’ve been really concentrating and having good at-bats.”
Aside from his own preparations, Cruz largely credits his father for his continued success at the plate. A veteran of the Mexican League and current hitting instructor for Diablos Rojos, Cruz’s father watches his son’s every at-bat and provides insight on any necessary adjustments in the infielder’s swing.
The advice has often clashed with Cruz’s professional hitting coaches at various levels throughout his career, but after floundering between five different Triple-A teams for the last few years, Cruz decided to stick solely with his father’s instruction.
“He’ll call me and say, ‘You’re jumpy,’ or, ‘Your bat’s doing this,’ or, ‘You’re doing this,’ “Cruz said. “It’s good for me to understand what he’s trying to say. He’s been doing that forever.”
The results have spoken for themselves.
Before his call-up to Los Angeles on July 2, Cruz was hitting a remarkable .318 and ranked tied for second on the ‘Topes with eight homers. Along with Elian Herrera, the pair of hot-hitting Isotopes was called upon by the parent club for a temporary starting position. However, while Herrera had a successful brief stay and returned to Albuquerque, Cruz continues to both maintain and solidify his position on the Dodgers.
“Luis has been really good,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s had success and we’re not going to change it (his starting role) right now.”
Although this isn’t nearly Cruz’s first stint in the Majors, it’s by far his most impressive. He appeared with the Pirates in 2008 and 2009, hitting .224 and .214 respectively, before last reaching The Show with the Brewers in 2010. The difference this year, Cruz said, is he’s been able to play on a day-to-day basis and settle into a groove.
“I’m comfortable here. I’m getting at-bats and that’s why I’m doing this,” Cruz said. “In Pittsburgh I’d play one game and then sit for a week. I didn’t know when I’d ever play.”
As Cruz continues his essential role in the Dodgers’ postseason push, ‘Topes fans can have the luxury of saying we saw (or at least hoped we saw) this type of success coming. Sure, the hitter-friendly PCL helped while he played here, but then again, maybe Cruz was THIS good from the beginning.
And we all almost missed it.