Pittsburgh Pirates: Way Too Early Opening Day Lineup Projection

Sep 26, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 04: Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates takes the field against the St. Louis Cardinals during the game at PNC Park on October 4, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 04: Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates takes the field against the St. Louis Cardinals during the game at PNC Park on October 4, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Shortstop – Oneil Cruz

Oneil Cruz came up showing some issues with swing-and-miss but progressively improved his approach at the plate. Cruz entered the season as one of the sport’s best prospects. While it took a while for Cruz to figure out major-league pitching, he ended the season on an extremely high note.

On the season, Cruz batted .233/.294/.450 with 17 home runs in only 361 plate appearances. Hitting for power was not an issue for Cruz. He had a .218 ISO, but this came with the downside of a 34.9% strikeout rate. Cruz also had a decent but unimpressive 7.8% walk rate. But overall, he had an above-average .320 wOBA and 106 wRC+.

But through his last 167 plate appearances of the season, Cruz hit .275/.353/.523 with a .377 wOBA and 145 wRC+. The shortstop saw an increase in walk rate to 10.2% and a decrease in strikeout rate to 31.7%. He even hit for more power with a .248 ISO. Overall, Cruz was one of the best hitters in the league down the stretch. From August 20th through the end of the year, he ranked in the top 20 in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS.

Now defensively, well, Cruz has never been a great defensive infielder. While he had +1 defensive runs saved, he also had -9 outs above average. OAA paints a more accurate picture, given it uses measurable outcomes to show defensive ability, and at -9 in less than 800 innings is not good.

But if Cruz can at least provide playable defense at shortstop, he’ll hit more than enough to make up for it. Cruz has one of the highest offensive ceilings in baseball. Next year, Cruz could push 40 home runs. If Cruz continues to build upon his improvements in 2022, he’ll be one of the most fun players in the sport next year.

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