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Oneil Cruz called up to Pirates after dominant start to AAA

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Oneil Cruz marks the second big-time prospect promoted this week

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates-Media Day
Oneil Cruz in Spring Training
USA TODAY NETWORK

The next domino has fallen.

Get out your tape measures, Oneil Cruz is taking his massive power potential to PNC Park.

According to MLB insider Hector Gomez, the Pirates are recalling Cruz after punishing opposing AAA pitchers in only a short six-game sample size. The deal was later confirmed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey.

The lefty has crushed the ball with more power and bat speed than a Donkey Kong arcade game, slugging an incomprehensible 1.286 thanks to five home runs and seven RBI in six games. His 1.941 OPS and eight walks, compared to three strikeouts, are telling of Cruz’s torrid run since returning from injury.

After a solid AA season with the Altoona Curve, Cruz alongside fellow top 30 prospects Roansy Contreras, Mason Martin, Cal Mitchell, Rodolfo Castro, and Canaan Smith-Njigba received the call to AAA after the conclusion of their season.

Cruz hit .292 in Altoona, registering 15 doubles, 12 home runs, and 40 RBI along with a 20-64 walk to strikeout tally in 62 games. The 22-year-old battled a right-forearm strain which also hampered Contreras mid-season. Both were able to recover and display their potential on the diamond once more, with Cruz now striding for a similar outcome as Contreras.

Contreras made his major league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday as pitched three scoreless innings, punching out four. This after only one start in Indianapolis, a feat he strode for at the start of the season but wasn’t sure it would become a reality.

In comparison, Oneil Cruz has looked like a virtual reality star every time he steps to the plate, putting up video game-type numbers in his first week as an Indian.

The 6’7” shortstop has fielded his natural position in five games, playing as the DH in the other, and batting leadoff for an Indianapolis team lacking an offensive spark plug all season.

Combining numbers from both levels, Cruz is slashing .310/.375/.594 with 16 doubles, 17 home runs, 47 RBI, and 19 stolen bases for good measure, compiling a .970 OPS in 271 at-bats.

Barring any injuries and similar to Contreras, who was optioned back to Indianapolis after his start, Cruz will more than likely not start 2022 in Pittsburgh.

But the time has come.

Two games in Pittsburgh to end 2021 will be exciting and energizing, and provide both the fans, but more importantly Cruz, a taste of the big leagues to continue to work towards a full-time promotion next season.

Maybe even more unreal than the numbers, the Pirates' third-best prospect and 52nd in the game is STILL playing the majority of games at shortstop. After a brief experiment in Altoona attempting to add further versatility, Cruz has played nothing but short when in the field for Indy.

Evaluators across the baseball world nearly universally believe Cruz will have to move off the position and to an outfield corner or first base due to his large frame, something Cruz continues to shake off and prove doubters wrong.

Some Pirates fans have compared Cruz’s Minor League success to recently-released Gregory Polanco, pleading to the baseball gods for a more dependable and consistent overall difference-maker.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Tony Watson at the 2017 trade deadline, Cruz has begun to blossom as a more complete hitter who still can field his position despite, at some point, probably moving to the outfield.

Strikeouts are still an issue, but an uptick in gap power and the ability to hit it 425+ feet makes Cruz one of the most exciting prospects since the 2013-15 playoff era.

On the flip side, Cruz could fail in learning a new position and the threat of increased injuries could, much like Polanco, derail a promising future.

As we stand on the first of October, Cruz will become the second ripple effect behind Contreras of the Pirates’ approach to developmental aggression.

Oneil Cruz brings excitement to 2022 for a fan base nagging for answers, with the chance to give the Clemente Wall a run for its money on a daily basis beginning Saturday night.