There’s no need to sugarcoat that 2022 was once again a disappointing year for Pittsburgh’s ball club, but there were bright spots on one side of the infield. With some improvement from both men, the combination of Oneil Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes could become one of the most exciting duos in baseball this year.
The pair of Pirates’ infielders were regularly making headlines in 2022 (some better than others) and a full year of the pair together will have PNC Park regularly setting off fireworks. As opening day fast approaches, a lot of fans and analysts are waiting to see how each player lives up to expectations.
One of the biggest headlines from last season was Hayes signing a long term contract to stay in Pittsburgh. It’s not often we see young talent decide to stay with the Pirates’ organization, so this was certainly a breath of fresh air for fans. On top of that, Hayes was a defensive work horse at third base in 2022.
Since his debut in 2020, Hayes has led Major League Baseball in defensive runs saved and also led all third baseman in outs above average last year. He was also a frontrunner for many to win the Golden Glove award, as he was near perfect in the field. Hayes also shined in his baserunning, as he was seventh in the National League in stolen bases.
Hayes certainly has some work to do to improve upon what was a solid season. A lingering back injury seemed to limit Hayes offensively as his batting average has continued to drop since his rookie season. He has the ability to hit big league pitchers, and when he does has incredible exit velocity, but needs to be producing more as a franchise centerpiece.
Cruz also stood out as the literal biggest attraction at PNC. The 6’7’’ 22-year-old shortstop put the league on notice with record setting arm speed and exit velocity as a clear freak of nature athlete with a lot of upside. Cruz finished the campaign with 77 hits, tallying 17 home runs and 54 RBIs across just 87 games. A full season under his belt could see monstrous results.
With that being said, Cruz is not without fault. Though he finished sixth in the rookie of the year voting, he also underperformed at the plate with a .233 batting average. Not terrible, but a guy with that much pop needs to be seeing more pitches, and not just try to go yard every time; though he does make that look easy. Defensively he also committed 17 errors, and many are wondering if a move to centerfield would help alleviate some of those issues.
Some improvement is needed, but if these two guys are playing at the top of their game, it could once again be a fun time to be a Pirates’ fan.
Hayes is expected to finally enter a season healthy and injury free, which should help to mend some of the issues he saw in the batter’s box. He has great vision and good mechanics, but needs to find consistency to get on base. When he does get on base however, he’s a very dynamic player who will look to capitalize as a runner.
As for Cruz, he still has so much ahead of him as a young player. It is great to see him electing to play winter ball in his native Dominican-Republic and continue to work on his game. Not to mention, he’s still trying to navigate how to make his tall frame and long limbs work together to his advantage. Darryl Strawberry and Aaron Judge, both took some times to grow into their bodies, and when they did they became unstoppable.
Both of these players are good on their own. On this team they shine like members of another team; the Wu-Tang Clan. Ghostface Killah and Raekwon both are stars in their own right and times stood out amongst the rest of the group. On projects like Ironman and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the pair were able to make some of the biggest hits in hip hop together.
I envision that kind of partnership for these two stars in the making, as they will soon be talked about as one of the most dynamic duos baseball. What Hayes currently lacks offensively, Cruz can help to make up for that. On the flipside, as long as Hayes continues to perform defensively the heat will be taken off of Cruz when he struggles. This is a pair that only comes around so often, and everyone should have their popcorn ready for the show that they are going to put on.