Cruz, Arias ready and waiting for Majors
Texas' two prospects are eager for their chance to make it big
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Every year, a bevy of prospects are sent packing in exchange for high-profile Major Leaguers as clubs wheel and deal prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31.Nelson Cruz was one such prospect two years ago, going from Milwaukee to Texas in a six-player deal. Joaquin Arias was the prospect included to finalize the 2004 trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. Both the power-hitting outfielder Cruz and slick-fielding shortstop Arias figured to be significant building blocks for Texas' future, but neither player's promise has come to fruition in Arlington. Stuck behind a logjam of Rangers outfielders and infielders, a trade away from Texas may be the only way Cruz and Arias can get to the Major Leagues. "I hear a lot, but it's nothing concrete," Cruz said. "It's just a lot of talk."
With the season Cruz has had at Triple-A Oklahoma, there's no mystery as to why teams are inquiring about his services.In 325 at-bats this season, Cruz has belted 34 home runs, including eight in his last six games, adding 85 RBIs, a .342 average and a 1.164 on-base-percentage-plus-slugging percentage. He's struck out just 78 times and has stolen 21 bases. His 34 home runs are the most in professional baseball this year and an Oklahoma club record for a single season. While players don't typically covet Minor League records, Cruz remains upbeat about his situation. "I just come to play every day," Cruz said. "Every year I try to be healthy and this year God has blessed me." However, at 28 years old and with three unsuccessful Major League stints on his resume, its understandable why Cruz is still in the Minors. Since joining Texas in 2006, Cruz has 15 home runs, 56 RBIs, a .666 OPS and 119 strikeouts in 437 at-bats over two extended stays with the Rangers. He was also caught stealing more times than not, four to three. If Cruz weren't out of options, Texas might be more willing to give him another shot. "If they have the opportunity to bring me up, they're going to do it," Cruz said. "I'm not going to worry about things I don't have control over. I wish I could be there, but I don't have any control. I can't pick when the right time is to bring me up." While Arias is still known in some realms as "the only player left from the A-Rod deal," Texas' trade with Atlanta last July, that brought shortstop phenom Elvis Andrus into the organization, has Arias between a rock and a hard place. Ahead of Arias is five-time All-Star Michael Young. Rising quickly behind him is the multidimensional Andrus, who's played in the Futures Game the last two seasons. "Elvis is a good player and Michael Young is a star player, too," Arias said. "They play my position, but I'm just trying to prove I can play in the big leagues." Arias first proved that in 2006 when he represented the Rangers on the World roster for the Futures Game, although he didn't play. Later that season he made his Major League debut, batting .545 in 11 at-bats over six games in September. He went into the offseason ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers' best defensive infielder, best infield arm and best hitter for average. But a right shoulder injury in 2007 that required arthroscopic surgery removed Arias from the Rangers' radar, limiting him to five games all season. The short-lived season came after spring when the Rangers tried converting Arias into an outfield. The move was unsuccessful, to say the least, as he never saw the outfield once the season started. "Last season was tough. I hurt my shoulder and I wasn't able to play very much," Arias said. "If I hadn't been moved to the outfield, maybe I wouldn't have hurt my shoulder, but now I feel better. I'd do it again if it'd get me to the big leagues. I'd play any position." Settled back in at shortstop and healthy this season, Arias has performed well, batting .292 with 10 doubles, eight triples, 22 stolen bases and just 45 strikeouts in 336 at-bats. However, at age 23, time may be running out for him to figure into Texas' long-term plans. Although he's been through it before, Arias isn't sure how he'd feel about another change of scenery. "I don't know," Arias said. "You never know where you might end up playing. A few years ago, I thought I'd be playing for the Yankees, but that obviously didn't happen. I'll play for whatever team, though, if that's what it takes."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.