This past offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved on from long-time General Manager Neal Huntington. One of his last trades may have been his best one.
One thing that Pittsburgh Pirates fans loved to criticize Neal Huntington for was his inability to land a top prospect in a trade. Every time it came to trading away a key trade chip it seemed like the team ended up getting more quantity over quality. While the philosophy made sense in terms of prospects being “lottery tickets”, it can be hard to convince a fan base that it was a good move without notable prospects coming back.
A prime example of this would be the Gerrit Cole trade which saw four of the Astros’ mid-level ranked prospects come to the Pittsburgh Pirates. While there is still time for the players involved to take a step forward, they all have been relatively average at best. Where is the impact prospect that the team uses as a legitimate building stone?
Neal Huntington was able to get a deal done like this before his tenure ended. At the trade deadline in 2017, there was a lot of pressure put on the team to move on from Tony Watson and allow Felipe Vazquez to become the team’s closer. As the trade deadline passed it was reported that the team struck a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers were sending not one, but two prospects back to the Bucs, which was surprising. The first prospect was then 21-year-old reliever Angel German. German was a hard-throwing relief prospect who remains in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. German had question marks about his control at the time of the deal and those questions still persist three years later.
The second prospect in the trade was an intriguing shortstop prospect by the name of Oneil Cruz. Cruz was listed as a 6’6” shortstop who projected to have a lot of power. The issue was that he was only 18 years of age, likely too big to play shortstop, and would be prone to strikeouts.
So essentially the team got two young prospects who were wild cards more than legitimate players. The Pittsburgh Pirates were trading away a rental reliever, who was having a down year by his standards, so many were just happy to get something for him. Still, Cruz hit just .218 in the Bucs system after the trade.
The trade looked like another one of those deals that fans would never hear anything about the two prospects. Like so many of Huntington’s deals, this looked like another one of those that was on the same level as two “players to be named later” type deals. Instead, Oneil Cruz has turned into a top 100 prospect in baseball.
Cruz has quickly established himself as one of the best power-hitting prospects in baseball and likely is positioning himself for a big-league début at the age of 22. While Neal Huntington often missed on acquiring top prospects, he did technically land one in Cruz. The Bucs and the new regime will likely benefit from one of Huntington’s last good trades.