We are taking a look at each position in preparation for spring training. Stay tuned as we complete the fielders and head to the pitching mound.
Today's position: Right field
Right field has become the home of Nelson Cruz for two full seasons now after he came back up from the minors in 2008 and put together an impressive late-season performance to earn the spot. Cruz is a great example of a late bloomer and someone that altered his swing, didn't give up and has made the most of a second opportunity. He got a new contract with about a $3 million raise because of what he did.
BTW, if you want to read Cruz's story you check out my story on him leading into the postseason.
Cruz, though, spent three different stints on the disabled list, all with hamstring issues. That meant that seven different players found themselves in right field for at least three games. Cruz led the way, of course, with 94. But David Muprhy played 50 games out there and will probably get some time out there as well this season. Jeff Francoeur, who has signed with the Royals for 2011, played in 13 games. Vladimir Guerrero, the club's primary DH in 2010, was in right field for 17 games.
Cruz has made staying healthy his top offseason goal. And to do that, he enlisted the help of Darren O'Day's brother, Kyle, who filmed Cruz's running style and is working with him on some alterations to help guard against hamstring issues in the future. Read more about that here.
Cruz has a lot more than power in his arsenal. He has an excellent arm in right field, garnering attention from third-base coaches who are hesitant to send runners on a close play knowing that Cruz can get them. He had 17 stolen bases in 2010. He had 20 in 2009. And considering he played in just 108 games in 2010, that total could increase in 2011.
Most encouraging was that Cruz became a more disciplined hitter in 2010. He got better about chasing too many pitches outside of the zone. He dropped his strikeout rate per at-bat and increased his walks. Naturally, his on-base percentage whent up to .374, the highest for any full major league season in his career.
Despite not even having 400 at-bats in 2010, Cruz had a .318 average, 22 homers, 31 doubles and 78 RBIs, becoming just the fifth player in major league history with at least 30 doubles, 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 108 games or fewer.
So rather than showing up at spring training with questions about production, Cruz -- like Hamilton -- will deal with questions about his health. We'll watch that carefully this spring.