Pittsburgh Pirates: Double-A Core Four Off to a Hot Start

BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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BRADENTON, FLORIDA – MARCH 02: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts prior to the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FLORIDA – MARCH 02: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts prior to the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Double-A Altoona has a ‘core four’ of hitting prospects that are highly ranked in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system and each of them are off to a strong start this season

Prior to the start of the minor league season we previewed each of the minor league affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When previewing the Double-A Altoona Curve we discussed a star studded lineup that had the potential to be a lethal one.

This lineup is anchored by a ‘core four’ of Pirate prospects. These four prospects are shortstop Oneil Cruz, INF/OF Rodolfo Castro, first baseman Mason Martin and outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba. Thus far, these four hitters have no disappointed at the Double-A level.

Arguably the most notable prospect in this group is Cruz. The Pittsburgh Pirates may not have a prospect in their entire farm system with a higher ceiling than Cruz due to his near limitless power potential, as well as being a plus athlete.

While Cruz has always played shortstop in the minors there has long been a belief he will not stick at shortstop long-term. So far this season he has struggled at shortstop having already committed 6 errors, while a positional change may indeed be on the horizon he is off to a strong start at the plate.

Through his first 59 plate appearances of the season Cruz is hitting for a .245/.322/.453 slash line to go with a 113 wRC+. He has flashed his power with a .208 isolated power (ISO) and an 11.3% extra base hit rate, having collected 2 home runs, 3 doubles and a triple.

The biggest concern with Cruz thus far has been the swing-and-miss. This has always been the biggest concern with Cruz and it has led to questions about his hit tool. Through 59 PAs this season he is striking out at 28.8% clip. That is his highest strikeout rate since he was at Low-A in 2017. Moving forward, both Cruz and the Pittsburgh Pirates will look for him to cut down on the strikeouts which could prove to be what holds him back from a promotion to the Triple-A level.

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