Pittsburgh Pirates: Rum Bunter’s Top 10 Prospects

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 10: Ke'Bryan Hayes #77 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during batting practice prior to the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on March 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 10: Ke'Bryan Hayes #77 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during batting practice prior to the Grapefruit League spring training game against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field on March 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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BRADENTON, FL – FEBRUARY 19: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photo during the Pirates’ photo day on February 19, 2020 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

2. Oneil Cruz

Oneil Cruz was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates back at the 2017 MLB Trade Deadline when they sent Tony Watson, who was on an expiring contract, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Angel German and the shortstop prospect.

At the time of the trade, Cruz was a struggling young, but extremely talented prospect. He had done well in 2016 hitting .294/.367/.444 with a 138 wRC+ in his first 211 professional plate appearances at the Dominican Summer League, but had struggled when he was promoted to A-Ball. His next 375 plate appearances saw the slugger hit .240/.293/.342 with a 79 wRC+ with the Dodgers. That’s when he was traded to the Bucs, and things didn’t get off to a hot start with his new team.

But the following season in 2018 is what put Cruz on prospect maps. In 443 plate appearances at Low-A West Virginia, Cruz put up a .283/.343/.488 line with a 143 wRC+ and .365 wOBA. Listed at a towering 6’7, 210 pounds, Cruz put on a power display cranking out 14 home runs and putting up a .201 isolated slugging percentage. He also showed he could run well with 11 stolen bases in 16 attempts.

Cruz started out the next year at High-A Bradenton where he continued to mash. In his next 145 plate appearances, Cruz hit .301/.345/.515. His power kept growing as he put up a .213 isolated slugging and hit 7 home runs. However, Cruz’s season was put on hold when he suffered a fractured right foot which kept him out of play from late April to late June. When Cruz did eventually return he was moved to Double-A. Though he didn’t hit for much power, Cruz saw his walk rate spike to 11%, and his strikeout rate sit at 25% in 136 plate appearances, both career bests.

Cruz has light-tower-power he can generate from his massive frame. FanGraphs gives his game power a 60 future grade, but it’s his raw power that stands out. He’s been given a future 80 grade, the highest possible grade you can get, for that tool. His arm is also beyond elite as it’s also been given an 80 grade as well. Fielding wise, he only has a 45 future, but many see him moving to an outfield spot in the near future. Currently, he has a 60 speed grade, but a future of 45, and his hit tool is only a 40. Still, if he can hit around .270/.340/.550 with 30+ home runs a year, and decent fielding in an outfield spot, he’ll easily be one of the Pirates’ best hitters.

There is just one issue. Cruz was involved in a car crash this fall where he was accused of driving drunk on the opposite side of the road and killing three that were riding a motorcycle with no lights (the motorcycle). Though it seems Cruz’s name has been cleared as there was no evidence of alcohol found in his body, and he was driving his sick and pregnant wife to the hospital, and general manager Ben Cherington fully expecting Cruz to return to Spring Training, the mental stress this put him under had to be immense. Hopefully, he is able to clear his mind and return to mashing baseballs next year.