Tigers' pick aims to be 3rd-generation MLBer

June 11th, 2020

The dad is effusive in his praise of the kid’s drive and ambition. “Go for it,” he tells him. The grandfather is proud beyond words. He also acknowledges: “Hey, he’s got the gene.”

OK, about that. Rice shortstop Trei Cruz, whom the Tigers selected with the 73rd overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft, does indeed have the gene. In fact, few players have ever entered the MLB Draft with the goal of being a third generation Major Leaguer.

And this is the place every talent evaluator began. Sure, they measured bat and foot speed. They saw his soft hands and that he had an .890 OPS in 131 career games at Rice University.

What is less obvious -- and what made Trei Cruz even more intriguing -- is where he has come from and how confident he is about where he intends to go.

“He doesn’t want to be good, he wants to be great,” said Rice assistant coach Paul Janish, a veteran of nine big league seasons himself. “He’s not on the fence. He’s also not scared of the light, and that’s a huge part of his success and continuing to elevate his game.”

One reason may be that Trei Jose Cruz has been around the sport his entire life. Every single day of it. His grandfather, Jose Cruz Sr., collected 2,251 hits in 19 Major League seasons. He spent 13 of those 19 seasons with the Astros, and his No. 25 hangs in Minute Maid Park after being retired by the team. Three decades since his last game, he remains one of the franchise’s most beloved players.

Trei’s dad, Jose Cruz, Jr., played 12 seasons in the big leagues, which allowed Trei the opportunity to grow up around Major Leaguers and to feel at home with them.

And: Jose Jr.’s brother, Enrique, played on national championship teams at Rice University and Houston Bellaire High School and spent five seasons in the Minors before joining the Astros as a corporate sales manager.

And: Antonio Cruz, Trei’s younger brother, is a sophomore on the Rice baseball team.

Yes, the gene.

Trei Cruz has it.

So when Trei Cruz tells his family he intends to be the best baseball player in his family, that sets the bar high.

Trei is playful about this, saying, “I tell ‘em all the time. I tell Grandpa I’m going to have more hits. I tell my dad I’m going to hit more homers and win more Gold Gloves. I’m always chirping at them.”

His family is rooting for him. And, by the way, they love the chirping.

“I’m so proud of him,” said the grandpa, Jose Sr. “He works so hard, and he has such a good heart.”

Jose Jr., added: “What I’m most proud of is his drive. I think it’s definitely unique. You don’t get that too often with young people. He has been driven since he was young.

“With him, it was never an issue. You say, `Let’s go to work,’ and he’s ready. I’ve had to tone him down, slow him down, tell him, `Look, rest your body, you don’t win every time.’”

Jose Jr. remembers “something clicking” during Trei’s sophomore season in high school. His work ethic became relentless.

“I just understood that you had to pay the price if you wanted to be what you want to be,” Trei said.

Where Trei once saw his name as a burden, he came to understand how blessed he has been to have access to all that knowledge.

“I’ve learned different things from all of them,” Trei said. “My grandpa is old school He’s big on attitude and playing hard and giving 110 percent. He says you have to have a will to beat the other guy, a battle between you and pitcher.

“My dad helps more on the mechanical and technical side. He started hitting left-handed late in his career, and it turned out great for him. Enrique has helped a lot defensively, working drills with me. He has been huge, too.”

Along the way, there have been moments when the family understood the kid is special.

For instance, he decided that switch-hitting would increase his value. He became so confident that he turned around during a state championship high school game and homered right-handed against a right-handed pitcher.

“I’d never done that,” Trei said. “The catcher told me, `Hey, you know that’s a right-hander on the mound. I told him, `You take care of you.’”

Jose Jr. recalled: “That’s when you realize he’s just seeing the game differently. It was commonsense to do that, but it was also really impressive. He has just gotten better and better.”

Both Jose Jr. and Enrique have degrees from Rice, and it was an easy decision for Trei and Antonio to follow them into a program that has produced Anthony Rendon, Lance Berkman and a string of other Major Leaguers.

Even better -- better being relative -- Trei’s first two seasons under Wayne Graham, one of college baseball’s legendarily demanding coaches.

“His freshman year, Coach Graham told Trei he was the worst player in the NCAA,” Jose Jr. said. “About a week later, he told him he was an indispensable part of the team.

“That’s Coach Graham. He’s going to test you and find out what you’re made of. Trei showed a lot of resilience to be able to keep coming back.”

Trei’s improvement has been steady. He made the Cape Cod League All-Star Team after last season, and scouts noted that every part of his game had improved.

“This is something I’ve trained for my entire life,” Trei said. “I’m ready to start my journey to the big leagues.”