Spring Training is a few weeks in, we have started to rank the Top 20 prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. Here is number 15 overall.
Over the years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system was considered one of the best farm systems in baseball. However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack. Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything. They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.
With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season. The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, and Travis MacGregor at 18. Furthermore, left-handed starter Braeden Ogle was ranked at number 17. The first hitter to show up on our count down was Calvin Mitchell at number 16.
Number 15 Overall
The number 15 overall prospect on the list is Oneil Cruz. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Cruz from the Los Angeles Dodgers at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for Tony Watson. Cruz is a young third base/shortstop prospect, as he originally signed as a shortstop, but has started to play some third base. He is from the Dominican Republican and signed for a large bonus of 950K back in July of 2015. Cruz is a big projectable bat that stands at 6’6” and 180 pounds, so obviously there is a lofty ceiling to dream on. He has a ton of raw power that he is still learning to tap into, and this should come natural as he matures into his large frame. He will be a bat first candidate, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks to the left side of the infield as time goes on or is stuck to a corner outfield spot/first base. He looks like a baby Gregory Polanco.
Last year, Cruz had an interesting season. He was aggressively pushed by the Dodgers organization to Low-A at just 18 years of age. This was mainly because he showed a mature approach to the plate for his age in the prior season. In 2016, he played in the Dominican Summer League, or the DSL. There he batted .296/.367/.444 in 55 games, accumulating 187 at-bats where he struck out 44 times while walking 22 times. While Cruz did not hit any home runs, he did pop 18 doubles and five triples. Advanced metric wise he graded well too, putting up a 138 wRC+ and a .150 ISO.
Cruz’s DSL production came at just 17 years old, and it is not all that common for players to show solid discipline and pop at such a young age. This is why the Dodgers decided to assign him aggressively to full season ball. He played in 89 games for the Dodgers’ Low-A affiliate, collecting 342 at-bats and slashing .240/.293/.342. He did see some of this doubles translate to home runs, as he only hit nine doubles, but hit eight balls over the fence. Once he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cruz was assigned to the Low-A West Virginia Power, the same level he was already in. His numbers regressed more, slashing .218/.317/.400 with two home runs in 16 games.
The biggest concern with Cruz is that his size could lead to a swing and miss issues. He was exposed this past year in a higher level of competition compared to his age, as Cruz was 3.5 years younger than the average player in the Low-A league. The biggest area he regressed in was his strikeout rate. He saw his strikeout numbers go from less than one per game to over one per game. He struck out 132 times in 105 games this past year. Meanwhile, he only walked 36 times. The main issue is that he was young for the league and they were able to expose his long loopy swing.
This year it will be interesting to see if he can progress and cut his strikeout rate down some. A player his size is no doubt going to have swing and miss issues. However, the key is for him to be able to suppress those swing and miss attempts as much as possible. It will be interesting to see if Cruz is once again assigned to Low-A West Virginia, or if the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to push him along to High-A Bradenton. Regardless, Cruz’s athleticism and power potential is what gives him such a high ceiling, and what makes him our number 15 overall prospect.