Oneil Cruz is an anomaly.
Standing at 6-7, Cruz became the tallest shortstop in the history of Major League Baseball. But his height is not the only attention-grabber for one of the Pirates’ best prospects.
The lefty batter can absolutely destroy a baseball.
Is this just a Spring Training home run? Yes— #InBCWeTrust (@PiratesStrong) March 21, 2022
Am I losing my mind and tempted to put money on Oneil Cruz winning NL ROY? Also yes pic.twitter.com/97lmhJy6C1
Regarded as the 26th best prospect in baseball and third in the organization by MLB Pipeline in their updated rankings, Cruz has dealt with strikeout numbers mirroring the total number of games he’s played per season but counteracts it with a strong approach at the plate.
Cruz closed the 2021 season out with a bang by hitting his first career home run in only his second career game, being called up for the final series of the year.
ONEIL CRUZ JUST HIT HIS FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN!!! pic.twitter.com/PIMMswXDYl— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) October 3, 2021
Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 Tony Watson trade, the then 18-year-old was a lottery ticket acquisition with immense potential and a unique build for an infielder.
Now 23, Cruz has lit up Spring Training in a minute sample size, fueling the flame burning inside fans' hearts for Cruz to begin the regular season as a member of the big league club.
He combined to bat .310 with 17 home runs, 47 RBI, and 19 steals spanning Double-A Altoona and six games at Triple-A Indianapolis.
There’s no question Cruz is looked upon as one of the most significant potential pieces to the next Pirates winning team and contender, with the only question being when. Not just when for the franchise to compete again, but when Cruz will be a factor in the heart of the order.
The Pirates could decide to manipulate Cruz’s service time and obtain another year of club control, but new details in the approved Collective Bargaining Agreement bring another factor to the table for Ben Cherington to address.
Under the new CBA, a full year of service must be rewarded to the top-two Rookie of the Year vote recipients despite when they were promoted. A team that promotes and keeps a player on the MLB roster throughout the season is eligible to cash in on up to three draft picks. This new agreement takes effect if a player’s contract is prior to arbitration and concludes the season in the top three of Rookie of the Year voting or top five in MVP or Cy Young.
An early ROY candidate by many, Cruz could fit the criteria to secure additional draft picks for the Pirates, an avenue the team has exploited the past two seasons with high-upside talent and manipulating the bonus pool allocated for having a high pick.
Cruz would bring an instant attraction to PNC Park. It might not be the one that keeps fans around just yet, which winning would satisfy, but alerting the city of a potential rebirth and new era that has been promised but yet to be fulfilled.
It would not surprise me to see Cruz begin in Indianapolis and the Pirates look to obtain the extra year. At the same time, he could be the Bucs’ second ever Rookie of the Year recipient after Jason Bay won in 2004. It is a toss-up as to where he starts, though barring injuries or something obscure will conclude the year in Pittsburgh.
Manager Derek Shelton has alluded to Cruz experimenting in the outfield and creating added versatility, which could be an excuse to send him down for extra seasoning defensively.
The bat is ready to play, attack the Clemente wall on a regular basis, and shine on the brightest stage for a franchise in need of emerging stars to pair alongside Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes, who also need a long-term contract to fully commit to the rebuild.
For now, sit back, relax, and watch the final week or two of Cruz devouring pitches in Florida and imagine the highs, but also the lows, that come with a full MLB season. I know I will.