The Pittsburgh Pirates are lacking power hitters in a league that is seeing more and more home runs. One of their top prospects hopes to help out this season.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they received two prospects in return. One was a hard-throwing reliever by the name of Angel German, who was known for throwing in the upper 90s but also struggling with command. At the time, German was just 21 years of age.
The second piece coming back in the deal was shortstop Oneil Cruz. Cruz was one of the Dodgers top international signings from their 2015 class. He was considered a very toolsy, but raw prospect. He was listed at 6’5” but quickly was reevaluated after the trade and ended up being remeasured at 6’7”. Still, no one was all that excited about getting a raw 18-year-old prospect who likely was going to be too big to play shortstop.
Cruz quickly caught the attention of Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Since joining the organization he has soared up prospect ranking boards and currently ranks as a top 100 prospect in all of baseball. Since the beginning of 2018, Cruz has played in 176 games, missing some time with a fractured foot in 2019. His OPS is at a solid .831, which is made up of a .483 slugging and a .348 on-base percentage.
Cruz has hit for a strong .291 batting average to go along with 22 home runs, 40 doubles, and 11 triples. He did this as a 19 and 20-year old playing full-season ball. His wRC+ sits well above league average at 137 and his ISO (measuring raw power) is at an impressive .192. The big lefty hitter has shown plenty of power potential, but also the ability to hit for a good average and get on-base. Furthermore, he has only struck out 23 percent of the time in his Pittsburgh Pirates career which is a little high but still close to league average (174 times in 176 games).
Under the previous regime, there would have been a lot of pessimism from fans regarding the 6’7” slugger. This script sounds very similar to one that was written about Gregory Polanco, who has yet to really reach that lofty ceiling. However, with basically a new front office, staff, and a lot of coaching changes there should be reasons for optimism about Cruz posting similar numbers at the big league level.
Cruz himself hopes to do that maybe as soon as this year. He reported to spring training earlier this week and caught up with some of the Pittsburgh media being one of the now better-known prospects in the system. He told Adam Berry of mlb.com and other media members:
"“My goal, really, is I want to make it to the big leagues this year,” Cruz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “I want to do everything possible to make it to the big leagues this year."
Obviously, it is great to see a 21-year-old prospect come into camp with that kind of mentality. He is coming in focused to prove he has the ability to make an impact for the big league club. What more could a fan want from a promising prospect?
Under the previous regime, this would have been considered not possible. Beyond the obvious Super Two status (which will still be a factor of consideration), the previous regime rarely moved prospects at an aggressive pace. Meanwhile, this is something that is being seen more and more in baseball, with the game moving toward a new wave of younger superstars and away from the veterans.
Now realistically speaking it will be tough for Cruz to make the big leagues out of camp. He only appeared in 70 games last season and 35 of those were at Double-A, so it would be a big jump. However, he could impress this spring and position himself to start the year at Triple-A, which then makes him just one phone call away from the Pittsburgh Pirates.