2024 Pittsburgh Pirates Rum Bunter staff prediction: Noah Wright

What do I see the Pittsburgh Pirates doing in 2024?
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Comeback Player of the Year: Oneil Cruz

Yeah, this one is pretty obvious. I don't think you can put anyone other than Oneil Cruz here. Cruz ended the 2022 season on an extremely high note. Through his final 167 plate appearances of the season, Cruz batted .275/.353/.523 with a .377 wOBA and 145 wRC+.

He had cut his strikeout rate down from 37.6% to 31.7% while nearly doubling his walk rate from 5.7% to 10.2%. Not only did Cruz improve his plate discipline, but his raw power was on full display. He had a 93.2 MPH exit velocity and an astounding 19.8% barrel rate. Only Aaron Judge, who was in the midst of a historic season, and Ryan Mountcastle had a higher barrel rate than Cruz in this stretch.

Cruz obviously had high expectations set upon him entering 2023. But just nine games into the season, the shortstop slid awkwardly into home plate, shattering his ankle, and ended his 2023 season before it really even began. Up to that point, Cruz had only struck out at a 20% rate in 40 plate appearances, and although he only had one home run, it looked like we might finally see what a healthy Oneil Cruz with good plate discipline in a full season could do.

I love Cruz, and I totally believe we'll see him come back in full force next year. Some already have him as a 30/30 threat. I don't know if the Pirates will have him be that aggressive on the base paths after his injury last year, but he'll definitely be able to use his speed to stretch singles into doubles or go from first to third (maybe even first to home) on some hits. Plus, I think his power will be back to where it was pre-injury. Cruz has stated that he is fully healthy with no limitations, now it's time to see what he can do at the plate.