'I have my own story': Tigers draft pick has learned to manage being third-generation Cruz
Detroit – Bloodlines in baseball. Sometimes they are magical – Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. come to mind. Sometimes, well, they are less so – Magglio Ordonez Sr. and Magglio Ordonez Jr., for example.
The Tigers have a crop of sons of big-leaguers in their system already – Cam Gibson (Kirk), Daz Cameron (Mike), Kody Clemens (Roger) and Pedro Martinez Jr. (Pedro Sr.). Never, though, have they had a third-generation big-leaguer.
They do now.
The Tigers, with the first pick in the third round Thursday, selected Rice shortstop Trei Cruz – as in Jose Cruz, the third. His grandfather played 19 seasons, most with the Houston Astros. His father, Jose Cruz Jr., played 12 big-league seasons, six with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I feel like I have my own story,” said Trei in a teleconference Thursday night. “And I am really excited to be a Detroit Tiger and rep the Cruz name in Detroit.”
Following the deep footpaths of two long-time big-leaguers, players who are still beloved in the greater Houston area, can be a double-edged blessing.
“More or less, when these kids are around the game growing up, they feel comfortable in it,” said Scott Pleis, Tigers director of amateur scouting. “They feel they belong. They know what to expect. Because of their fathers, they know how to handle themselves. It just comes with a lot of belief that, ‘I can do this. It’s not a big deal.’”
It also comes, once you decide to take that same path, with heavy, potentially oppressive expectations. Trei Cruz understands that all too well.
“Obviously my whole life, I've had some pressure being a third-generation Cruz,” Trei said. “It's something I had to deal with and I definitely struggled with it growing up. But what I've learned the last couple years is, the only pressure on me is pressure I put on myself.”
That was the wisdom his father imparted, and the message resonated throughout the draft process.
“He told me pressure is a privilege,” Trei said. “If you have pressure, you're doing something right. He said it’s up to you if you want to put pressure on yourself or not.
“I chose not to.”
His elders were outfielders. Trei is an infielder – specifically, in his heart, a shortstop. His elders, especially his father, were productive, power hitters. Trei had to learn the hard way that he wasn’t going to be that kind of hitter.
He hit .305, slugged .519 with nine home runs as a sophomore at Rice. He was feeling pretty good about himself until he played in the Cape Cod League that summer and initially foundered against the elite pitching.
The high leg kick that he felt helped him generate power at Rice was preventing him from catching up to the firmer velocity he was seeing at the Cape.
“Yeah, I had to make adjustments because that was the best pitching I’d seen up to that point,” he said. “I shortened my leg kick a little bit and I realized I didn’t need a big leg kick to generate power. I realized the shorter (his swing) was, the better hitter I was.
“The less moving parts the better for me, especially against high-level pitching.”
He finished strong at the Cape and then before his junior season was shut down, he was hitting .328 with 18 walks (17 strikeouts) and seven doubles in 16 games.
Throughout the process -- essentially redefining his hitting approach at the apex of his college career -- he could hear echoes of his elders’ words in his head.
“The biggest thing they've taught me is how to handle pressure, how to handle failure,” he said. “Because baseball’s a game of failure. If you fail six or seven times out of 10, you're pretty good. That's something I had to take some time to learn and didn't really grasp at the beginning.”
He watched highlights of his grandfather’s career and he marveled at how level-headed he stayed in the most heated moments. Yet his father was more emotional, more hot-headed at times.
“My dad told me if he could change anything from his career, it's how he handled the bad games,” Trei said. “That was something my grandpa excelled at. He was amazing at that. And what I learned over the last couple of years, whether I have a bad game or not, I need to walk out of that park and say, ‘That’s done.’
“You never know who’s watching. You never know if it was someone’s first time watching you. I have a lot of confidence in myself and need to play that way whether I am having a bad game or a good game. Either way, I am going to walk out being the most confident person in the building.”
Sage stuff from a young man not yet 22 years old.
Back to what Pleis said, too, about sons of big leaguers feeling like they belong. The Tigers envision Cruz as a multi-positional player in the big leagues. Pleis raved about his athleticism and versatility and how his hitting has continued to evolve and improve every year.
Cruz appreciates that. But he doesn’t envision UT (utility) next to his name. He envisions SS (shortstop).
“At the end of the day, I want to give myself the best chance to play Major League Baseball,” he said. “If it's at third base, if it's at short, if it's in the outfield, it is what it is. I just want to play in the big leagues.
“But I definitely want to prove I am a shortstop, because I believe I am. I believe I can play shortstop at the highest level for a long time. That’s my goal.”
You like that.