Pittsburgh Pirates: Time to Move Oneil Cruz to the Outfield

BRADENTON, FL- FEBRUARY 22: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws during a game against the Minnesota Twins on February 21, 2020 at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FL- FEBRUARY 22: Oneil Cruz #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws during a game against the Minnesota Twins on February 21, 2020 at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz has struggled to make throws from the position making now the best time to try him out in the outfield

Shortstop Oneil Cruz has as high a ceiling as any hitter the Pittsburgh Pirates have in their farm system. Cruz has all the power potential you’d want from a shortstop. He has a 60-future game power grade and 80-future raw power grade on FanGraphs. However, it’s time the Pittsburgh Pirates make the decision and move the infielder to an outfield spot.

This isn’t anything new. Cruz has long been speculated to make the move to the grass for a while now. The 6’7″, 210 pound slugger would be the tallest to ever play shortstop regularly in the MLB. While he can track down balls at the position, and has the pure raw arm strength to be a shortstop, he’s consistently struggled with accurate throws from the position. Though they aren’t the best way to analyze fielding, his 10 errors are mostly throwing errors.

Now Cruz does have the bat to make a move to the outfield. Entering play on Thursday night Cruz was hitting .295/.354/.561 with a .396 wOBA and 146 wRC+ through 145 plate appearances. Cruz has huge power potential. He’s putting both his raw power and game power on display this year. He has 8 home runs, a .561 slugging percentage, and .265 isolated slugging percentage. Thursday night he continued to rake for the Curve as he scored a pair of runs and collected his 3rd triple of the season.

Cruz has been one of the best offensive forces at the Double-A level. Among the 138 batters with at least 120 plate appearances, he ranks 17th in wRC+, 21st in wOBA, 11th in slugging, 16th in ISO, and 14th in OPS.

Cruz’s plate discipline has been so-so. He’s walking at a 7.4% rate and striking out at a 23.4% rate. Compared to the MLB level, he’s striking out at a very slightly above average rate (MLB average is 24%), but walking well below the average rate of 9%.

Now, I do understand why they’ve left Cruz at shortstop as long as they have. Shortstops are one of the worst positions for offense. Cruz’s bat plays way up at shortstop than if he were moved to right field or left field. However, he’s athletic enough to play center field if the Pittsburgh Pirates want him to.

Though they’re usually one of the worst offensive forces in the lineup, shortstops are the most athletic players on the field. Cruz is a good runner. He currently has a 60-speed grade and although he’ll lose a step or two as he grows into his huge frame, he should still be fast enough for an outfield spot. He’s currently on pace for over 30 stolen bases across 150 games.

Plus, it’s not as if Cruz is the only high quality shortstop prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates have. Liover Peguero is a borderline top 100 prospect, a good fielder, and good hitter. They acquired another shortstop capable prospect this past off-season with Maikol Escotto as part of the Jameson Taillon deal. Not to mention other noteworthy prospects with shortstop experience such as Ji-Hwan Bae, and Rodolfo Castro. Then there’s a good chance they take another top shortstop prospect in Marcelo Mayer or Jordan Lawlar in this upcoming draft.

Bucs Swept in DC. dark. Next

Someone has to move positions and given Cruz’s struggles to make accurate throws from the position, he should at least start seeing part time play at an outfield position. This is something the Pirates need to do before he reaches the major leagues. Learning a new position at the game’s highest level can throw off other aspects of his game, so now is the time to at least try him in the grass.

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