At 6’7″, Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz is out to prove to the world that his combination of power and speed is more than ready to succeed at the Major League level.
Coming into the 2022 season, many had hoped the Pittsburgh Pirates would have broke camp with Oneil Cruz slated to be their opening day starting shortstop. Especially after the impressive spring training he was able to put together.
Through five spring training games, Cruz racked up five hits, two home runs, three RBI, a .333 average, a 1.067 OPS while only striking out three times. All that earned him was a trip back to Triple-A. Before this season, though, Cruz put up numbers that put him in line to potentially be one of the most unique shortstops baseball has ever seen.
How He Got To This Point:
After making his rookie league debut in 2016 at only 17 years old, Cruz has since shown the world he possesses a combination of size, power and speed not seen at the shortstop position…possibly ever. While there has been a handful of taller short stops over the years (Cal Ripken Jr, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are all 6’4”), before Cruz started two games at the end of last year, baseball has yet to have someone 6’7” or taller start at the SS position since Joel Guzman in 2006.
Unlike Guzman, Cruz seems to have the tools to make an impact at the major league level for years to come.
2021 was the year Cruz really seemed to finally hit his stride. After a solid 2019 which saw him make the jump from rookie ball to Double-A, Cruz came out and lit the minor leagues on fire. In 68 games between Double and Triple-A he hit .309 with 16 doubles, five triples and 17 home runs while also stealing 19 bases. He also ended up playing two fairly impressive games at the major league level in 2021 hitting .333 with a home run and three RBI in those two games.
What To Expect From Oneil Cruz Offensively:
Although his batting average in 2022 hasn’t been great thus far, he’s only batting .190 in the first 16 games, he’s still finding ways to make an impact on the offensive end. Three doubles, a triple, eight RBI, six stolen bases and one hell of a walk-off home run.
412 feet of pure disrespect.
Cruz does certainly have some work to do, though. While the raw power (graded 80/80 on fangraphs) and speed are there, his launch angle seems to need a bit of a tweak. Not counting his 2 games in the MLB or six games in Triple-A last season, Cruz’s ground ball rate has been 57.5% (2022 Triple-A), 47.3% (2021 Double-A) and 45.2% (2019 Double-A) his last three seasons. For as big and strong as he is, some of that ground ball rate desperately needs to be converted into line drives.
In his two MLB games last year he had five hits registered by statcast for an average exit velocity of 100.6 MPH and a max exit velocity of 118.2, both of which are absolutely insane. Bump that launch angle even just 5 or 6 degrees (it was only 4.6 degrees in his handful of major league ABs last year) and Cruz becomes an absolute nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Just look at how he goes down and smacks both of these shoelace high pitches for absolute BOMBS.
Defense & Potential Position Change:
Realistically, Cruz isn’t going to be some defensive wizard at the SS position. In 519 innings (61 games) in 2021, Cruz committed 16 errors. This season already he’s committed another 4 in only 16 games. This has caused the organization to start toying with the idea of a potential shift to left field. He played there a bit this spring as well as two games so far this minor league season.
My money is on Cruz keeping that shortstop of the future role, through. If there’s one thing this pirates organization needs right now it’s incredible young talent making plays with the bat and with the glove. Sticking him in left field would greatly dampen the potential visibility he brings to not only the team, but himself. With phenomenal youngster Ke’Bryan Hayes already out there holding down third base, sticking Cruz out there along side him would make for an incredibly fun to watch left side of the infield.
What Cruz may lack in natural defensive ability, he makes up for with his speed, size and range. And if guys like Fernando Tatis Jr have taught us anything recently, it’s that errors are quickly forgotten when you can hit the hell out of the ball.
No offense to current starter Kevin Newman and his current injury, but I think it’s time for the O’Neil Cruz show to begin in Pittsburgh. Bring me a Pirates team with Hayes and Cruz in the infield, Bryan Reynolds in the outfielder and Daniel Vogeldong leading off and I promise it will produce some exciting baseball.