Dominican Republic – Shortstop Oneil Cruz
The Dominican Republic is a baseball powerhouse. In 2021, there were 98 total players from the DR who started the year on Opening Day rosters. That was 34 more than Venezuela, the second most. Of the 830 players to play in the MLB from the Dominican Republic, four have made the Hall Of Fame, with many more like Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols, and possibly Jose Ramirez eventually joining them. 15 of the 61 total prospects on FanGraphs Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect list are from the Dominican Republic. Among those 15, Oneil Cruz is considered the best.
Cruz flew up prospect boards this past year. The shortstop started the year at Double-A, where he had a quality .882 OPS, .377 wOBA, and 136 wRC+. He also had a dozen home runs in 273 plate appearances and a .244 isolated slugging percentage. While that might look good, everything he did in his small sample size at Triple-A pales in comparison.
Cruz only had 29 plate appearances but 11 hits. Five of those hits were home runs and he added a double. Cruz also drew 8 walks. To put it simply, he did something productive in 19 of his 29 trips to the plate. That earned Cruz a promotion to the majors during the last series of the year, where he had three hits in 9 at-bats. One was a home run on one knee, and another was the 7th hardest-hit ball in all of MLB.
MLB Pipeline recently highlighted Cruz’s athleticism. He might be 6’7″, 210 pounds, but he moves exceptionally well and has a real chance of staying at shortstop. He’s a capable defender there, but the only reason he might end up at another position is because of the multitude of shortstop prospects behind Cruz. His arm can play anywhere, as he has an 80-grade for that.
One of the few worries some had about Cruz was his hit tool. He always had so-so walk and strikeout rates but has consistently hit above .285. Plus, both his walk and strikeout rate have moved in the right directions over the past few seasons. So even if Cruz only ends up being a .260-.270 hitter, he’s arguably the best power-hitting prospect in all of baseball.