Luis Cruz-Photo courtesy of DodgerNation.com

Why Cochito Has Earned The Third Base Job For The Dodgers

The Dodgers late season collapse was one of the most painful events to watch unfold. If you’re a Dodger fan. The end of the 2012 season free fall was frustrating and disheartening to watch. It was a sad event to see indeed. The Dodgers tried though. They did all they could. With Matt Kemp injured, and the rest of the Dodgers struggling to hit and get on base, the Dodger offense often didn’t score many runs. But there was one man who was not part of the problem. One man played with passion and desire like I’ve never seen. One man played the game like it’s supposed to be played with heart and fire. he had fire in his belly. We hear that cliché many times from other writers and some announcers about other players don’t we? They’ll say so and so player plays the game “the right way”, and we all nod our head and kind of chuckle at something so funny. It’s often a corny way of looking at things. But with Luis Cruz, it’s all actually true. This is how he plays the game.

They called him “Cochito”. His father had played in the Mexican Leagues, and he was seemingly plucked out of obscurity. His father is now a hitting coach in the Mexican leagues, and taught Cruz how to play the game when he was a kid. Nobody knew he was, he came out of nowhere. Well, nobody except for this guy twitter.com/MEXICOBOUND21. He had sent me a message on twitter about Cruz. He raved about his timely hitting, and solid defense. I didn’t know who this guy was, and I had vaguely heard of Cruz.

The guy was right. You see, Cruz languished in the minor leagues for years, before getting his chance with the Dodgers. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2000. The Red Sox eventually traded him to the Padres for Cesar Crespo in December of 2002. Five years later he was filing for free agency, and he never got a chance to play with San Diego. He signed with the Pirates and made his MLB debut in Pittsburgh on September 2, 2008. He made several cups of coffee in Pittsburgh. He played in 22 games for the Pirates in 2008, getting 74 plate appearances, and hitting .224 (15 for 67). In 2009 he played in 27 games, receiving 78 plate appearances and hitting .214 (15 for 70).

In December of 2009 the Brewers claimed Cruz off of waivers from the Pirates. In 2010, Cruz played in seven games for the Brewers.  He hit .235 (4 for 17), and during his three short stints in the big leagues, he split time between second base, shortstop, and third base. The Brewers released Cruz in March of 2011, and after he signed with the Texas Rangers, he found himself back on the free agent market later that year. Finally on November 20th of 2011, Cruz signed with the Dodgers.

On July 2, after Dee Gordon had broken his thumb, Cruz was called up to the Dodgers. Cruz started off slowly at first, collecting seven hits in his first ten games, but after that, he hit safely in 13 of his next 14 games. All total Cruz posted a slash line of .297/.322/.431, with six home runs, 40 RBI in 296 plate appearances. Cruz played in 78 games last season, splitting time between second base, shortstop, and third base. 51 of those games were at shortstop. Cruz played all over the infield for the Dodgers.

Cruz had no trouble hitting against lefties, as he posted a .302 average (26 for 86) against southpaws. The rest of his splits were just as good. Cruz batted .331 on the road, and hit .325 while driving in 32 runs with runners in scoring position. Cruz hit an even .300 in the month of September.

Cochito-Photo Courtesy of Zmbio.com

It wasn’t just his clutch hitting. He also played solid defense. Cruz only committed two errors at the hot corner, and posted a +6 total runs above average at third base. Not bad at all. He only made four errors with the Dodgers the entire season.  In my opinion, the least amount of errors a player makes, the better defensively he is.

Cruz quickly became a fan favorite, as Dodger fans chants of “Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuz” reminded me of the chants nearly 15 years earlier of “RauuuuuuuuuuuuL” for then Dominican outfielder Raul Mondesi.

The entire time Cruz has been humbled by the experience. He’s often reported as constantly smiling, and taking pictures when the Dodgers were on the road in opposing team’s ballparks. Even when the Dodgers were on the verge of utter collapse, and the fan base frustrated by their losery, Cruz kept smiling, knowing the journey that brought him here was one that most people never get a chance at.

Before one game, Cruz got the chance to catch Fernando Valenzuela’s ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium, and was reported to be shaking and very nervous before the game. Fernando had been a hero of Cruz’s when he was a kid, and now he was donning the same uniform, and playing on the same field as his childhood hero. It’s the stuff American dreams were made of.

If you’re wondering, Cruz posted a 2.2 WAR during his 2012 campaign, but that can’t even properly explain Cruz’s real value to the Dodgers in 2012. Many people have said that Cruz will eventually turn into a pumpkin, and or revert back to being a utility infielder or something. The Dodgers had explored other options on the free agent market, and through trade, but there are few if any decent options for third base available outside the organization.

I like Dee Gordon, but he was stinking it up something awful. He was called up to early. Luis Cruz was inevitable. The Dodgers should be starting the 2013 season with Dee Gordon in Albuquerque, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and Cruz as the starting third baseman.

Luis Cruz continues to be beloved by all Dodger fans. Vin Scully once said this about Cochito….

That says it all. It’s like Christmas every day for Cruz at Dodger Stadium. He knows what it took for him to get here, and he knows time is fleeting . The 28 year old infielder doesn’t take anything for granted. He fought to get here. He fought to be a major leaguer, and he fought to be a Dodger. Nobody gave him anything, he did it through hard work, and sheer perseverance. It really is a beautiful story.

So when people ask me what the Dodgers should do about third base, I proudly tell them that the Dodgers already have a third baseman, and his name is Cochito. Yes he may struggle in 2013, and if that happens, we can always call back up Dee Gordon, and put Hanley back at third, or we could explore other options. But for the time being, I think Cruz deserves that chance for the way he played in 2012 for the Dodgers. He deserves the chance to fail, hopefully he doesn’t of course. There are many teams that wish for a Luis Cruz at every position. There is nobody I trust more at third base than Cruz.

In my opinion, Luis Cruz has earned the starting third base job for the Dodgers in 2013. Keep on keepin’ on Cochito.

Tags: Dee Gordon Hanley Ramirez Los Angeles Dodgers Luis Cruz

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