Pittsburgh Pirates: Relax, Oneil Cruz Is a Slow Starter

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 18: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians at PNC Park on July 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 18: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians at PNC Park on July 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are rebuilding and one of their top prospects is a notoriously slow starter.  There is no reason to panic if he gets off to a slow start in 2021.

Back in 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates closer was left-handed reliever Tony Watson, who at the trade deadline posted a 3.66 ERA.  There were some red flags, such as the 4.70 FIP, career low strikeout rate, an increasing number of home runs, and Watson blowing seven saves while only saving 10.  Still, as a left-hander there was some value on the trade market and the Pirates acquired for pitcher Angel German and infielder Oneil Cruz.

German, a hard throwing right-hander with control issues, is no longer in the organization.  It’s Cruz, who despite the size at 6’7″, remains at shortstop, that is the prize in the trade.  Over the last couple years, the tall left-handed bat has blossomed into a top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and a top 100 prospect overall. Now the team is having him get some reps in the outfield this Spring, as he gets closer to the Pittsburgh Pirates roster.

There has been some concern with Cruz’s hit tool, where his size does create some problems and there is a swing and miss element in his game.  However, he’s still a top prospect in baseball for a reason and it is for his power potential.  If Cruz gets off to a slow start this season – whether in Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis – there is no reason to panic.  Let’s look at his April splits over the years:

  • 2017: 22 games, 33 strikeouts, .133 average
  • 2018: 22 games, 30 strikeouts, .215 average
  • 2019: 11 games, 13 strikeouts, .328 average

In 2019, Cruz fractured his foot as well limiting to only 11 games.  Cruz has started off slow in April in every season for what could be multiple different factors, but a slow start in 2021 would not be too surprising given his past.  When considering the missed 2020 season and the off the field stuff (the car accident this offseason in the Dominican Republic), a slow start in April for Cruz wouldn’t be too surprising. Even his Spring Training stats have always left much to be desired, over 3 Spring Training (26 games) he has hit just .200.

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While there is some concern in Cruz’s ability to hit for a high average given his strikeout rates and the question of where he’ll end up defensively, there is little to be concerned about if Cruz starts off cold in the first month of the season given his past tendency to do so.  There’s still the rest of Spring Training to go, and perhaps that puts him on a right path for the 2021 season that will start next month. With that being said, this is something Cruz needs to work on. If he can start to get off to better starts to seasons as he matures, that will allow Cruz to reach his all-star potential.

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