The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired minor leaguer Oneil Cruz in a trade at the trade deadline last season. So far in 2018 he has developed nicely and has started to hit.
Last year, at the deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away veteran reliever Tony Watson for two minor league players; shortstop Oneil Cruz and pitcher Angel German. German is a hard throwing relief pitcher, but it was Cruz that was the main interest.
The left-handed hitting shortstop stands at an impressive 6’6″ and 175 pounds. His swing is reminiscent of Gregory Polanco, who developed into a top prospect inside the Pittsburgh system. When looking at the numbers, a promising thing comes to light; Oneil Cruz is hitting the ball incredibly well as a 19-year-old. Here’s how Polanco fared in his age 17-19 seasons, for both players uBB% is equal to (BB-IBB)/PA:
Gregory didn’t hit all that well and didn’t show that much power as a youngster. But the positives were his strikeout rate and walk rate. He didn’t strike out a ton and he was able to draw a walk, two promising signs for a youngster, especially his age 19-year-season.
Now to the 19-year-old prospect, Cruz, who has performed well:
|Numbers Entering July 18|
After a good start to his pro career, Cruz struggled some last year as his strikeout reached the 30 percent clip and his walk rate dropped by 2.5 percentage points. This year, however, Cruz has been locked in. His strikeout rate has dropped, and while his walk rate has dropped, the power has played up to a .193 ISO, an 80 point jump. According to Fangraphs, his swinging strikeout also dropped from 14.0 percent to 11.7 percent. Cruz has flatout hit this year.
Cruz, compared to Polanco, has hit for more power with a higher on-base in more plate appearances as a 19-year-old, and Cruz still has one and a half months left of the season. Given his height, the swing and miss will always likely be a factor; he has long levers so a consistent swing is tough to maintain, something Polanco has struggled with throughout his Major League career.
Other Cruz notes
The biggest thing with Cruz is his defense. Baseball Prospectus has him at -7.4 fielding runs above average this year, and last season he was at -8.5. Cruz has 28 errors in 722 innings at short this season. 6’6″ shortstop are hard to find; according to the baseball-reference play index, Michael Morse (2005) and Archi Cianfrocco are the only two players with a height of at least 6’5″ to play at minimum 25 percent of their games at shortstop in a season.
A position move will happen eventually, but there’s good news. Using Fangraphs scouting reports, Cruz’s present speed is a 55, so he could perhaps move to center. The problem is when he fills out his frame, the speed will go down, and Fangraphs has him at a 40 future value. His arm is a 70 present and 80 future, which is a plus-plus arm and could play in both right field or third base, two spots where speed won’t be a problem.
Perhaps the best news comes from a recent Eric Longenhagen, Fangraphs lead prospect analyst, chat:
Bored Employee: Has Oneil Cruz made any visually-apparent changes to account for his performance this year?
Eric A Longenhagen: That’s 6-foot-8 PIT SS Oneil Cruz, having a strong year. No, in fact he still looks like a baby deer a lot, which is part of why what he’s doing is crazy.
If Cruz still looks like a baby deer and is performing this well, he should be really good when he fills out and gets more comfortable and consistent with his long arms and legs. There’s a lot to like with Cruz, especially considering he’s still raw.
Cruz has the body type and swing of Polanco, and in their age 17-19 seasons Cruz has outhit the current Pirates right fielder. He’s got lots of raw power and is still developing as a prospect, with maturity still coming down the line. He’ll likely need a position change shortly, but the arm profiles perfectly in right. With his offensive performance, Oneil Cruz should be earning a call up to Bradenton, and if not, he’ll start there as a 20-year-old next season.