Oneil Cruz represents an enigma within the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league organization. A shortstop with a blend of raw power, speed, a cannon for an arm and an above-average ability to play defense. Typically a prospect possessing that skill set is easy to project.
However, at 6’7”, Cruz would be the tallest person to ever start a game at shortstop should he make the major leagues. His height is the one thing that gives scouts pause in trying to project what the future holds for the 21-year-old prospect.
Cruz, who is the third-ranked prospect in the Pirates system behind Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes, is presently still seen as a shortstop of the future for the Bucs. However, with another top prospect, and a former first-round pick, Cole Tucker ahead of Cruz in the minors, his future position is uncertain.
Some experts predict that Cruz will eventually move to a corner outfield spot. Others feel he has the speed and athletic ability to make him a viable centerfield option. Meanwhile, additional experts feel that the best course of action is to move the tall, lanky Cruz to first base and shift All-Star Josh Bell to another position.
For now, the Pirates will continue to develop Cruz at shortstop. Raw power is the biggest reason that Cruz is currently listed as the number 57 overall prospect in baseball and the ninth-best shortstop prospect in baseball.
With power that is currently ranked as 60 out of 80, Cruz possesses the ability to hit the ball out of any part of the park. Many feel that if he adds bulk to his 6’7” frame, that power number could potentially jump to 70 out of 80.
In addition to raw power, Cruz possesses an extremely strong arm, with a 70 rating. He also has above-average speed and defense, both rating at 55. However, the biggest concern for the youngster is his hit tool.
His lanky frame makes him prone to strikeouts do to a long and loopy swing. However, adjustments made in the minors to his leg kick last year allowed Cruz to cut down on his swings and misses.
Originally signed for $950,000 by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2015 international draft, Cruz came to the Pirates in a trade that sent relief pitcher Tony Watson to the Dodgers in 2017.
Last season he played three games in the Gulf Coast Rookie League before being promoted to Bradenton. He would play a total of 35 games with Bradenton, missing two months of the season after fouling a ball off his foot and fracturing it.
After returning from the injury, Cruz would play well enough at A+ Bradenton to warrant a promotion to AA Altoona. He would play 35 games for the Curve. His final stat line between all three clubs would be 265 at-bats with 79 hits, 24 walks, 74 strikeouts, eight home runs, 34 runs batted in, 35 runs scored, 11 stolen bases and a .298 batting average.
Cruz would go on to play in winter ball for the Pirates, but the club would opt to end his season two weeks earlier than expected. He would finish with an uninspiring line of a .185 average with two doubles and two walks in just eight games.
The young prospect is expected to open 2020 with Altoona. If things go well he could receive a promotion to Indianapolis during the season. He is not expected to make the majors in 2020, with his anticipated arrival being 2021.
Oneil Cruz represents a classic boom-or-bust prospect. Many envision him as a potential All-Star caliber player if he can develop a hit tool and find a permanent position. His ceiling currently projects as a player who could hit for a .265 average with 30+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases. If the Pirates can get that from Cruz, they will be ecstatic regardless of what position he plays.