Wild Pitcher drafted; keeping sharp in Tri State

Just before the Major League Baseball First-Year Players draft last month, Wolcott’s Manny Cruz received a pleasant but unexpected call from Lee Seras, the Northeast Regional scouting supervisor for the Cincinnati Reds.
“Mr. Seras said the Reds were keeping an eye out for me and thought there was a strong possibility of them taking me,” Cruz said. “I was with my dad, cousin and Mike Meier (Wolcott’s catcher), just hanging out at home. I honestly asked him (Seras) if he was serious. How many 17-year-olds get a phone call about being drafted? I was in complete shock.”
Seras laughed, and said it was true, as Cruz took a deep breath to regain his composure. “He knew how much shock I was in,” said Cruz.
On June 8, Seras called again, minutes after Cruz’s name was posted on the MLB draft website when the Reds officially took him in the 39th round.
“Mr. Seras called again and congratulated me and told me that they would be very happy to have me be a part of the organization,” said Cruz.
An array of emotions took over as Cruz thought back to all of his family, coaches, athletic trainers and teammates who helped him get this far.
“It’s a goal and accomplishment that can never be taken away from me, regardless of what happens,” said Cruz, who has not signed with an agent yet and has not had formal contract negotiations with the organization.
“Signing with the Reds is very possible,” Cruz said. “All of the options are on the table. They are still evaluating me. Sooner or later, we will sit down and talk. The deadline is soon.”
According to MLB rules, July 12 is the deadline for amateur draft picks to sign, except for players who have exhausted college baseball eligibility.
Should he not sign, Cruz has a pretty good fall-back plan. He accepted a full scholarship to Division II Southern New Hampshire University, where will play shortstop and also pitch.
The Reds drafted Cruz as a shortstop, not as a pitcher.
“It will be a tough decision (on whether to sign), but the way I look at it, it’s a win-win situation,” said Cruz, referring to college.
Cruz batted .657 for the Eagles, hitting safely in all 24 games with 18 RBI. He also posted a 10-0 record on the mound with a 0.55 earned run average.
Until then, Cruz is taking things in stride, playing for the Waterbury Wild of the Tri-State League and with the Connecticut Grind, an 18-U team, which competed on Long Island this weekend.
“There are some people who are telling me to sit and relax and don’t get hurt, but the Reds’ scouts have told me not to break my regular routine and to not lose any timing,” he said. “If it rains, I am looking for an indoor batting cage. If it doesn’t, I will play.”
That mentality is keeping Cruz sharp.
Cruz credited his older brother, Julian, 25, whom he watched from the time when he was little, for teaching him the game, as well as his dad, Mike.
“My dad would tell me to keep my head on straight, and if I worked hard, there was no reason why I couldn’t make it,” said Cruz.
For years, he was told that he was too small to make it in baseball.
“All that did was motivate me more,” Cruz said. “I saw it as a challenge to prove people wrong. Instead of taking 100 swings, I’d take 150, or instead of taking 100 ground balls, I’d take 200. I always would go that extra step.”
While there were some critics, there were others who saw the potential, like Paul Cambra, his AAU coach of seven years ago.
“He told me that I had the five tools (hitting for average, power, speed, throwing ability and fielding ability). That always stuck in my mind,” said Cruz. “Every time I stepped on a field, I thought about that.”
Beyond the physical ability, Cruz had another trait he believed gave him an edge.
“My heart,” he said. “I have a no give-up attitude. I hate to lose.”
So when the Naugatuck Valley League champion Eagles unexpectedly got bounced from the class M state tournament in the first round to end the season at 22-2, Cruz took a page from Wolcott coach Tary Scott.
“Coach Scott would say to just erase it,” he said. “You can’t take a bad pitching performance, a bad at-bat or an error back on the field. You can’t dwell on things. There’s always another game to prepare for and another opportunity.”
When there are rainy days like Monday, he is off to a batting cage. When he has some free time, he does a little daydreaming, like most days over the past three weeks.
“It’s surreal to know that I have this opportunity at this age,” he said.