Every team in baseball passed over Nelson Cruz, including the Rangers

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Long before he became one of the league’s top sluggers and a postseason hero Nelson Cruz was passed over by every team in baseball, including the Rangers. His journey to playoff stardom is pretty remarkable, actually.

Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old by the Mets in 1998. Two years later they traded him to the A’s for journeyman backup infielder Jorge Velandia.

He spent four years in Oakland’s minor-league system, emerging as a good prospect, at which point the A’s traded Cruz to the Brewers for Keith Ginter. He spent two years in Milwaukee’s system, making his big-league debut in September of 2005, but then the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in a six-player swap that included Carlos Lee and Francisco Cordero as the big names.

Cruz played 41 games with the Rangers in 2006 and another 96 games in 2007, but hit just .231 with a .664 OPS. In the spring of 2008 he was out of minor-league options and the Rangers didn’t want to keep Cruz on the Opening Day roster, so they designated him for assignment, dropped him from the 40-man roster, and placed him on waivers.

Any of the other 29 teams could have claimed him for $20,000 … but they didn’t. Cruz passed through waivers unclaimed, at which point the Rangers assigned him to Triple-A for the first five months of the 2008 season. He finally earned a call-up in late August and went on to hit .330 with seven homers and a 1.030 OPS in 31 games down the stretch, forcing his way into the Rangers’ plans.

And the rest is history, as Cruz has hit .283 with 91 homers and an .885 OPS in 391 regular season games and .281 with 10 homers and a 1.027 OPS in 24 playoff games for the Rangers since going unclaimed and making his way back from Triple-A in late 2008.

Cruz didn’t make his big-league debut until age 25 and didn’t become a regular in the majors until age 28, but his minor-league performance was screaming out for opportunities before then. He didn’t thrive immediately in the majors, but Cruz hit .313 with 87 homers and a .996 OPS in 326 total games at Triple-A. He just needed an extended chance to prove those Triple-A numbers were no fluke and it took three trades and all 30 teams deciding he wasn’t worth a roster spot before that happened.

Rays acquire RHP Drew Smith from Tigers

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The Rays acquired minor league reliever Drew Smith from the Tigers on Friday, per a team announcement. The move will close the loop on the trade the two teams began in January for backup outfielder Mikie Mahtook.

Smith, 23, pitched his first full season in Single-A West Michigan in 2016, turning in a 2.96 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 11.5 SO/9 in 48 2/3 innings. The right-hander is still several levels away from making any impact on the Rays’ major league roster, but appears to be progressing steadily in two seasons of pro ball and has delivered two runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in his first 11 2/3 innings at High-A Lakeland this season. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that he’ll be reassigned to the Rays’ High-A Charlotte this week.

Yankees activate Didi Gregorius from the disabled list

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The Yankees have activated shortstop Didi Gregorius from the 10-day disabled list, the club announced on Friday. Infielder Pete Kozma was designated for assignment to clear roster space.

Gregorius, 27, suffered a strained right shoulder while playing in the World Baseball Classic last month. He’s in Friday’s starting lineup, batting sixth against the Orioles.

Last season, Gregorius hit .276/.304/.447 with 20 home runs and 70 RBI in 597 plate appearances.