Number 3 – Shortstop Oneil Cruz
The Pirates got Oneil Cruz in the trade that sent then rental reliever Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the time, Cruz was a very young infield prospect and he’s developed into a prospect with some of the best power potential in the minor leagues.
Cruz has played his entire 2021 season at Double-A where he’s been outstanding. In 190 plate appearances, he’s hit .289/.349/.538 with 9 long balls, a .380 wOBA, and 136 wRC+. Cruz has put his power on display this year having a strong .249 ISO. Though his walk rate isn’t outstanding at 7.9%, it isn’t bad either. The same can be said about his solid 22.6% strikeout rate.
This isn’t the first time he’s had a good season. In 2019, he did pretty well in 292 plate appearances. In 2018, his breakout season, Cruz had a .365 wOBA, and 134 wRC+ in 443 trips to the plate. He’s been injured for part of this season, but still could be an integral part of the Pirates’ future.
Like I said earlier, Cruz has massive power potential. He can leverage his 6’7″, 210-pound frame to generate light-tower power. He has a future-80 grade for his raw power. His game power is a projected 60-grade tool. Not only can he leverage his big frame for big-time power, but he can also use his pure power to make strong throws. FanGraphs gives his arm an 80-grade. Cruz’s hit tool is fringy with just a 35-grade. Though he’s yet to hit for less than a .280 batting average over the past 3 seasons. This mainly comes from his so-so plate discipline.
The question is what position he’ll stick at long term. He’s more than fast enough and has the reflexes to make the plays at shortstop, but his arm is inaccurate at the position. Given his athleticism and strong arm, a move to the outfield may be in the cards for Cruz.
You could make a handful of comparisons to another shortstop who has recently made a transition to the outfield in Fernando Tatis Jr. A big shortstop with massive power potential, though some swing and miss who can field short, but his arm accuracy can get wild at times despite the raw strength he has on his throws.
Cruz is in his age-22 season. He should be in the Major Leagues sometime next season. Cruz has middle-of-the-line-up potential. You’re looking at heart of the lineup hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, putting himself in a good position to drive in plenty of runs with his big-time power. What position he’ll play long-term is in question, but he can be a solid defender with a good enough glove to play wherever the Pirates need him to.