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Updated: April 8, 2010, 8:12 PM ET

Small change proves big for Nelson Cruz

Olney By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
Josh Hamilton owns national renown for power because of the incredible display he put on in the Home Run Derby. But Nelson Cruz, his teammate with the Texas Rangers, can match him for pure power, as Texas general manager Jon Daniels noted Tuesday.

In batting practice, Daniels said, Cruz hits the ball over the batter's eye in center field "with regularity. "He's unbelievably strong. It's freakish power."

[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireNelson Cruz was on waivers. Now he is on his way to becoming a star.

Cruz and Hamilton are so daunting in batting practice that the Rangers are careful to make sure that Texas hitters are not affected by their fireworks show. The Rangers have been mindful not to create a situation, in the BP hitting groups, such that another hitter might get caught up in trying to match the two swing for swing. If Cruz and Hamilton were together, the other two hitters might be susceptible to trying to get away from their normal preparation and might think about loading up to blast the ball.

So, like two school friends who might be a distraction in class, Cruz and Hamilton are separated -- before games, anyway. On Monday, Toronto's Shaun Marcum had to cope with Cruz, Vladimir Guerrero and Hamilton together, and the pitch he threw to Cruz in the seventh inning wasn't that bad. Low and away.

And Cruz wasn't fully invested in the swing that he took: He leaned forward and just sort of flicked the ball, like someone playing badminton. But the ball rocketed over the right-center wall for a three-run homer -- a game-changing swing. Two innings later, Cruz tied the score again with a double, finishing the first game of the season with four RBIs.

It was just two years ago, by the way, that Cruz passed through waivers unclaimed, as the Rangers sent him to the minors. In the summer of 2008, some members of the Rangers' minor league staff -- director of player development Scott Servais, Triple-A manager Bobby Jones and Mike Boulanger, the team's minor league hitting coordinator -- helped Cruz make an adjustment to his stance.

Up until then, Cruz had hit with his front foot -- his left foot -- closer to home plate, in a closed stance. With the coaching, Cruz drew the left foot back, opening his stance; what Daniels believes is that this helped Cruz see the ball better. When Cruz returned to the Rangers and played for them that August, he was a different hitter.

"Since then, he's been pretty consistent," Daniels said.

Last year, the player who had been put on waivers by the Rangers and passed on by every other team hit 33 homers and generated a .524 slugging percentage.

"Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good," Daniels said, "and the reality is you probably need to be both."

In the case of Nelson Cruz, the Rangers have been lucky and good.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and an analyst for "Baseball Tonight." Read his daily blog, which runs through all the news and notes you need from around the majors.

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