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Cruz calls it a career

It's not often you hear about a 21-year-old announcing his retirement, but former Pasco standout Alex Cruz did that this month after three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system.

Cruz, who had just 23 at-bats in a month's play with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters of the Class A New York-Penn League, retired July 5. A team spokesman said Thursday that Cruz, who could not be reached for comment, had been frustrated by a lack of playing time.

The infielder was selected by the Pirates in the 27th round of the 2000 draft after a stellar career at Pasco, where he helped lead the Pirates to a state championship appearance. As a senior, Cruz batted .469 with eight home runs, earning all-conference honors for the third straight year and a spot on the Times' All-Suncoast team.

But he never found the same success in the pro ranks. After batting .292 with Pittsburgh's affiliate in the Gulf Coast League for one month last summer, he was promoted to Williamsport, where he batted .181 with 11 RBIs in 26 games. This spring, he carried a .217 average with one run scored and one RBI before retiring three weeks into the Crosscutters' season.

Another former county star drafted in 2000 has joined Williamsport. Former Land O'Lakes pitcher Kurt Shafer was promoted from the Gulf Coast League on July 19 and earned a save in his first appearance, allowing one run in three innings.

Shafer spent most of last season in the GCL, where he went 3-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 12 starts, striking out 41 and walking nine. This season, he struck out 15 batters while walking three in five GCL starts before the promotion. In his Williamsport debut, the right-hander struck out three and walked none.

Another former Land O'Lakes ace promoted this summer is Derek Thompson, who moved up from the South Atlantic League to the Advanced A Carolina League last month. After posting a 3.42 ERA in 14 starts with the Columbus (Ga.) RedStixx, Thompson has a 3.83 ERA and 2-2 record in seven starts with the Kingston (N.C.) Indians. A supplemental first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2000, Thompson was limited by a knee injury to two starts last season.

FAST START: Saint Leo pitcher Josh Neitz, a 25th-round selection of the New York Yankees last month, has a team-low 0.77 ERA in 10 appearances with the Staten Island Yankees of the Class A New York-Penn League. Neitz, 1-0 with a save, has allowed only one run in 11 innings, striking out 10 and walking two.

"He's shining," Saint Leo coach Ed Stabile said of Neitz, a four-year starter who also played shortstop for the Lions. "I knew he's be good, but not this good."

Neitz won 17 games the past two seasons at Saint Leo and was a two-time All-Sunshine State Conference player.

"He has a natural ability to be able to pitch and hit spots," Stabile said.

Of course, it may have helped that Neitz was drafted by his favorite organization, which also happens to be Stabile's favorite.

"He's one of my boys now," Stabile said.

AROUND THE HORN: Dade City's Dan Boyd, ranked among the Midwest League batting leaders for much of the season, has seen his average drop to .292, still second-best for the Beloit Snappers. His 50 RBIs and 58 runs scored are also second on the team. After three weeks on the disabled list with an inflammation in his right shoulder, Land O'Lakes graduate Brad Baisley was activated by the Class AA Reading (Pa.) Phillies and pitched three innings Tuesday night, giving up one hit and one run while walking four. The timing of the injury might have kept Baisley from being promoted to Class AAA. Teammate Ken Pumphrey was promoted when the Phillies called up top prospect Brett Myers to the majors. Baisley (7-6, 3.48) has his lowest ERA since his first full season in 1999.

_ Staff writer Steve Lee contributed to this report.

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