We're getting close to Opening Day and that means it is time to focus in on nine of the stories worth following this Rangers season. We'll run them down one a day between now and April 6th, with Nelson Cruz up for discussion in the sixth inning.
Nelson Cruz conjures up feelings of deja vu like few other baseball players.
Wasn't it just last year that we were wondering if Cruz would be able to use his talent to put up a mammoth season? Or was it before the 2009 season? It was both, actually, and we're still waiting on that signature season from one of the most talented players on the Rangers roster.
The issue is either that Cruz is snakebitten or that he doesn't do enough to keep himself clear of injury. Figuring out which would take a medical degree, a psychology background or some kind of psychic powers. We've got none of them and that's why we are left wondering once again what it will take for Cruz to play 140 or more games and challenge for the MVP Award.
He's got that kind of skill. If you weren't already convinced of that before last year's ALCS, you were probably swayed by the one-man wrecking crew act he pulled on the Tigers. Cruz's six homers and 13 RBI carried the team to the World Series, where he added two more homers as part of the futile effort to bring a trophy to Arlington.
It was one of those playoff runs that made you think of the best hitters in the history of the game. It also made you wish even harder that Cruz could do this from April to October without long gaps thanks to pulled muscles in his legs.
If Cruz is ever going to put it all together, this would be the year for him to do it. Josh Hamilton's contract status will be a story throughout the season, but the Rangers could take a much harder line on Hamilton if they have any reason to believe Cruz can be the man across an entire season. As it stands now, the team can't just wave goodbye to Hamilton because they'd be one Cruz hamstring away from a terrible outfield and mediocre lineup.
Now's the time for Cruz to prove that he's more than just a tantalizing talent who can't be relied on to produce on a daily basis. If he doesn't, we'll find ourselves back here next April wondering about the best way to replace a player whose name is on the brink of becoming synonymous with missed opportunity.