Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Prospects In The MLB Pipeline Top 100
By Noah Wright
Shortstop Oneil Cruz
2019 season ending ranking: 57
2020 preseason ranking: 64
Acquired for Tony Watson back during the 2017 trade deadline, the 21-year-old Oneil Cruz has silently been climbing his way up the minors for the Pirates. Cruz has an unconventional frame for a shortstop. He is listed at a towering 6-foot-7, and 175 pounds. When the Pirates originally traded for him back in 2017, he was primarily seeing time at third base but has transitioned to shortstop.
Oneil Cruz’s 2018 season is what put him on him on the prospect map. In Single-A West Virginia, Cruz hit for a strong .286/.343/.488 in 443 plate appearances. He slugged 14 home runs, but also swiped 11 bases. Overall, 134 wRC+.
Cruz probably would have either stayed in the mid-50’s, or moved up a handful of spots after the 2019 season, if it weren’t for injuries. Cruz suffered a fractured foot, and lower body discomfort, which led him to play just 73 games and step to the plate less than 300 times (292).
But when Cruz was healthy, he was producing with the bat. In Single-A Bradenton, Cruz was hitting .301/.345/.515 with 7 home runs in 145 plate appearances. That resulted in a 154 wRC+. He was eventually moved up to Double-A Altoona, and produced solid, but not spectacular numbers. Regardless, he still posted a 120 wRC+, and .269/.346/.412 line through 136 PA’s. Cruz clearly is still a year or so removed from seeing consistent MLB action, and needs more seasoning at Double-A, but has shown progress at each level. From Bradenton to Altoona, Cruz doubled his walk rate, having it go from 5.5% to 11%.
Cruz’s best tool is his arm. It’s given a 70 grade, which I can only find 3 other players on the list with an arm rating of 70. Two are catchers (A’s Sean Murphy, and Braves’ Shea Langeliers), and Braves’ outfield prospect Cristian Pache. His next best tool is his power at a 60 grade, but given his 6’7 frame, that shouldn’t be a big surprise. What might come as a surprise is his run grade of 55.
Cruz’s final position could still be up in the air. He is an adequate shortstop, having a 50 fielding grade at the position, but with so many young middle infielders in the Pirates organization, it would be hard for him to push through at the position. The same thing over at the hot corner with Ke’Bryan Hayes. The general consensus seems to be him moving to right field. After all, Cruz has the arm to play right field. He also has the speed to get around. Personally, I think he could become an Aaron Judge-lite in the future.