I’d imagine that most of you have probably heard of the term “AAAA player”, the characterization given to guys who achieve success in Triple-A but haven’t shown that they can sustain success in the major leagues. These guys put up gaudy numbers in the Pacific Coast and International Leagues, but for various reasons, they get exploited by major leaguers.
Perhaps the best of these Quad-A guys currently is Nelson Cruz, a power hitting outfield in the Rangers organization. Cruz has been destroying Triple-A arms for years, starting with Nashville in 2005, when he hit .269/.382/.490 as a 25-year-old. That wasn’t enough to get him a job in Milwaukee, so he went back to Nashville for 2006 and hit .302/.376/.528 before being traded to Texas in the Carlos Lee deal. The Rangers gave him 138 plate appearances after the trade, but he didn’t impress, putting up a .223/.261/.385 mark that got him sent back to Triple-A for the 2007 season. In response, he went bananas on the PCL, hitting .352/.430/.698 before Texas decided to give him another shot. He failed again, however, posting a .235/.286/.384 mark that was similar to his ’06 time with the Rangers. Between 2006 and 2007, Cruz accumulated 570 underwhelming plate appearances, showing an overly aggressive approach at the plate and an inability to hit breaking balls. These flaws saw him head to Oklahoma again to begin the 2008 season.
They apparently don’t throw breaking balls there, because if you thought he was good down there last year, you haven’t seen anything yet. Through the first 129 trips to the plate this year, Cruz is terrorizing the PCL to the tune of .375/.520/.781. In addition to his prodigious power (he’s leading the PCL in home runs with 11), Cruz has adopted a more selective approach at the plate. His walk rate has nearly doubled and he’s cut his strikeouts down as well, leading to an impressive 27/18 walk to strikeout ratio. By letting pitchers put him on base and waiting for his pitch to drive, he’s gone from a cleanup hitter to a monster. No one in Triple-A is good enough to get him out, and they’re doing well if he doesn’t just end up rounding the bases on his own.
At some point, some organization is going to have to decide that perhaps Nelson Cruz has earned another shot to shake the “AAAA player” label. He’s 27, entering his physical peak, and his power is being wasted on the Pacific Coast League. Clearly, there’s a major league job somewhere for this guy, isn’t there?
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.