Cruz takes part in Dodgers' Turkey Giveaway
Third baseman opened some eyes with his surprising play last season
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers haven't settled on Luis Cruz's role next year, but they know what he's doing on Tuesday.
He's handing out turkeys.
The Dodgers and the Dodgers Dream Foundation hosted the eighth annual Community Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway at Dodger Stadium. Cruz was joined by Dodgers alumni "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Bobby Castillo and Paul Lo Duca to distribute a complimentary turkey, fixings and reusable canvas bags to 600 pre-selected families.
When Spring Training starts, Cruz is the likely starting third baseman, with Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Dee Gordon left out. Management, however, has told Ramirez that he needs to tighten up his defense if he wants to remain at shortstop. He intends to play the position in winter ball and has told manager Don Mattingly that he'll show up early in Arizona to work with coach Tim Wallach.
"We think if he's willing to work at short, that's the best scenario right now," said Mattingly. "He has to want to get better. Nothing is written in stone. Nothing is promised to anybody."
Mattingly said the desire to keep Ramirez at shortstop is in part because of the surprising play of Cruz, who is trying to shake off the stubborn reputation of a career Minor Leaguer. It's baseball nature to be skeptical that Cruz can duplicate his success in the Majors after so many years in the Minors.
"I understand that," said Cruz. "Even if I had been playing here a couple years, I still have to get better to keep playing."
Cruz, 28, came to the Dodgers a year ago with 11 professional seasons played and only 56 games of big league experience and a .221 batting average. He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training expected to be Triple-A insurance.
He was called up July 2 out of desperation after a siege of injuries, and from that point on, he led the Dodgers with a .297 average, 84 hits, 20 doubles and 78 games. He drove in 40 runs, hit .325 with runners in scoring position and had five game-winning RBIs.
He had a 12-game hitting streak in July, hit .331 over his last 48 games and his .984 fielding percentage ranked second for National League third basemen with a minimum of 50 games. Before all of that, he was a Pacific Coast League All-Star.
Mattingly sounds like a believer.
"Cruz is one reason [Ramirez would stay at short]," Mattingly said. "He played well and I feel he is deserving. But we're not handing anything to anybody."
Cruz, after taking a month off, said at the end of November he will report to the Mexican Winter League, where his hitting coach will be his father. Cruz credits Luis Sr. with keying his breakthrough a year ago.
"He just told me to play the way I played before I signed 10 years ago," said Cruz. "Every organization tries to make little changes, and I just got confused. Now it's simple for me. I went back to my stance and leg kick, and it works for me. A lot of people say I don't walk enough, but that's my game."
Cruz said he will play third, short, second base, even the outfield while with Culiacan. Mattingly said he'd like Cruz to play some first base, as the Dodgers are looking for a right-handed hitter who can spell Adrian Gonzalez at first.
It would be fitting if it's Cruz, since the pair intends to represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, although that would interrupt both of their Spring Trainings. Cruz said his winter-ball routine is one of the reasons he plays well in the spring, as he did last year when he opened eyes of the staff as a non-roster invitee.
In the meantime, Cruz is in Los Angeles to hand out turkeys, having flown in from his Mexico home Monday for two days worth of club promotions.
"I want to be involved in everything," he said. "I want to be part of the team."
Tuesday's giveaway is a partnership of the Dodgers, Ralphs and Food 4 Less, Los Angeles City Council members Ed P. Reyes and Eric Garcetti, California State Senators Kevin De León and Carol Liu, the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council (GEPENC), the Echo Park Improvement Association (EPIA) and the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park (CCSEP).
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.