Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz has long been talked about moving to a different position, but why haven’t they at least tried moving him off of short?
The best power hitting prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates have is shortstop Oneil Cruz. Cruz has some of the highest power potential not just in the Pirate farm system, but throughout all of minor league baseball.
Cruz has 60-future game power, and 80-raw power, per FanGraphs prospect grades. So far this season with Double-A Altoona, he’s put that power on display. He has hit .290/.351/.527 with 8 home runs, a .379 wOBA, and 136 wRC+.
The raw power has been on display this season . Just look at this absolute moonshot that had a 120 MPH exit velocity (no, that’s not a mistake, he hit it 120 MPH off the bat, which is 1 MPH more than Shohei Ohtani’s hardest hit ball or Aaron Judge’s hardest hit ball this year which are the two hardest hit baseballs in 2021).
But the issue hasn’t been Cruz’s offense. It’s been his defense. Cruz has some decent speed, so he’s able to get track down balls at shortstop, plus he has a cannon of an arm with an 80-grade. But it’s been making accurate throws from the position. While they’re not the best measurement of how good a player is at defense, he’s made a dozen errors at shortstop. He also made 33 errors there in 2018. Most of those are throwing errors.
So it’s been long speculated that the Pittsburgh Pirates would eventually move Cruz off of shortstop and to an outfield position. He already got some reps there this spring training and they’ve finally started to get him stretched out as an outfielder at Altoona. But why has it taken so long for them to move him off of shortstop?
Well, for one, his bat would play up massively at shortstop. The shortstop position isn’t known to be the best when it comes to offense. Since 2015, shortstops as a whole have had a wRC+ above 100 just once, that being in 2020, and have had a wRC+ below 90 on two occasions. The only with fewer seasons where the position as a whole was below average was catcher is catcher. Catcher is also the only other position with more sub-90 wRC+ seasons.
The next issue is that moving Cruz off of shortstop would essentially mean the Pittsburgh Pirates are putting all their eggs in Liover Peguero’s basket. The Pirates are not as deep at shortstop as many think. Sure, they have a handful of shortstop capable players outside of Peguero and Cruz like Ji-Hwan Bae and Rodolfo Castro, but none are nearly on the same level of Peguero or Cruz.
Now this isn’t a knock on Peguero or anything. He could be a top 100 prospect by the end of this year, or by the start of 2022. He’s done extremely well at High-A Greensboro. He has a .352 wOBA and 120 wRC+ this year in 142 plate appearances. Since June 10th, he’s been on fire, having a .313/.380/.547 line, .234 isolated slugging percentage, and 153 wRC+. He hasn’t been the best defensively this year, but he’s considered a 55-grade future fielder where Cruz only has a 45-future grade at shortstop.
But betting the future of the position on just one player, one who hasn’t reached the upper minors yet and is still in just his age 20-season isn’t the best idea. Prospects flameout. No team has a 100% success rate at having prospects reach their full potential. I don’t think Peguero will be a bust, but betting on him and only him could lead to disaster. The Pittsburgh Pirates could mitigate this if/when they pick Marcelo Mayer this upcoming draft, but still something to keep in mind as a likely reason Cruz hasn’t moved off of short yet.
Now in all likelihood, Cruz will be a regular at another position by the time he’s a regular in the major leagues. By 2022, he’ll probably be an outfielder. However, he hasn’t played any other position aside from shortstop and third base in his pro career. Cruz is athletic enough to play right field or centerfield. At this point, the bigger question is when, not if, he’ll move off of short. But while it’s taken the team a while to move him off of short, they do have their reasons.