Expectations fluctuate. Coming out of the 2007 draft, not much was expected of Joseph Cruz. 35th round picks out of junior college aren’t expected to sign. Cruz did, for an above-slot $100,000. And then we had no idea what to think. Cruz was an obscure name. Considering he was the draft’s 905th overall pick, we couldn’t expect much. But Cruz pitched well and things changed. And then, they changed back. Now, once again, we don’t know what to think
Cruz had a nice pro debut in 2007 at Advanced Rookie Princeton, striking out 13 while walking just 3 in 9 innings. The next season, he was back at Princeton and pitched well, going 1-3 with a 3.17 ERA, a 10.3 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 13 starts and 54 IP. His FIP was a nice 3.00 and his groundout to flyout ratio (GB/FB) was a good 2.00. Cruz did allow 10.2 hits per 9 innings as his BAbip was suspiciously-high .352 compared to the .327 league average. The question was going to be whether that was a fluke from spotty defense or a cause for some legitimate concern. Nevertheless, thanks to his 4.43 strikeout to walk ratio, Cruz became a pitcher worth watching.
In 2009 in his age 20 season, Cruz moved up to Low-A Bowling Green and he slipped a little bit, going 5-8 with a 4.04 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 21 starts and 98 IP. His FIP dropped to 2.70, certainly a positive thing. But his GB/FB quite a bit to 1.37, and he once again allowed well over a hit per inning, 10.1 per 9. His BAbip remained crazy-high at .356. But his FIP pointed to a great season in 2010, and that’s exactly what happened.
In 2010, Cruz was promoted to High-A Charlotte, and the results were outstanding. Cruz went 13-6 with a 2.85 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 25 starts and 142 IP. His 13 wins led the Florida State League while his 2.85 ERA ranked second among qualifiers. His FIP matched his ERA and his GB/FB went up a little to 1.42. He finally allowed less than a hit per inning, 8.7 per 9, as his BAbip went down to .322 compared to the .312 league average. Even in a rotation loaded with pitching- Matt Moore and Nick Barnese were with Cruz in the Charlotte rotation- Cruz stood out.
But in 2011, circumstances did a one-eighty for Cruz. Cruz started the year at Double-A Montgomery before getting hammered and going down with a shoulder injury. Cruz went to Rookie ball and then High-A when he came back to try to find himself before he returned to Double-A. The results could not have been worse. In 11 Double-A starts, Cruz went 3-5 with an 8.43 ERA, an 8.0 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 in 47 IP (well under 5 innings per start). His FIP was significantly better at 5.03 but still horrific. He allowed an incredible 14.4 hits per 9 innings. His GB/FB was just .60 and he allowed a 23.9% line drive rate compared to the 17.5% league average. He got hit hard and everyone had to be worried. One season after a breakout, Cruz completely imploded.
The onset of the 2012 minor league season found Cruz back at Montgomery. And the early results were too similar. In his first 8 starts spanning 35.2 IP, Cruz posted just a 7.07 ERA, striking out just 26 while walking 27 and allowing 5 home runs. But suddenly on Wednesday, everything fell into place. Cruz went 6 innings versus the Mariners Double-A affiliate, the Jackson Generals, and dominating like we hadn’t seen in far too long. Cruz went 6 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 8 while walking just 2. It’s just one start. And on the year, Cruz has managed just a 25.8% groundball rate compared to the 42.2% league average (according to Minor League Central.) But our hope has been renewed.
Cruz, a lean 6’4″, 190 has a fastball that hits the mid-90’s with late movement away from right-handed batters. His second pitch is a big, slow breaking ball that he adds and subtracts some velocity from, ranging form the low to high 70’s, and at its best, it looks like his fastball out of his hand before featuring dynamic late break. Cruz also has been working on a changeup. Cruz, for the most part, has always controlled his pitches well but command has been a problem for him, as evidenced by the number of flyballs he has allowed. Maybe something clicked for Cruz on Wednesday. His groundout to flyout ratio was still just 3-6, but he struck out 8 batters for just the second time since 2010. Cruz still has a long way to go. But with his repertoire, he has some nice upside if he can piece his command together and harness his changeup. Joseph Cruz isn’t as good of a pitcher as we thought he was following 2010. But if his turnaround his really started, maybe he could be.