In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a late-career veteran and first year rookie getting most of the playing time at shortstop. The late career veteran was Clint Barmes. Barmes was the definition of a defensive specialist. Never known for his hitting ability, Barmes clocked in with a .211/.239/.302 line across 330 plate appearances. Up to this point in his career, it was his worst offensive season as he had a 53 wRC+ and .244 wOBA.
But in just 804.1 innings, Barmes had +5 defensive runs saved. UZR/150 didn't view him in a positive light at -1.3, however he had double digit DRS in the two seasons prior to 2013, and a well above average UZR/150 in both years.
The first year rookie was Jordy Mercer. Mercer was a far better hitter than Barmes, slashing .285/.336/.435. Although he had a sub-par 6% walk rate, he only struck out in 17% of his 365 plate appearances. He also had a respectable .150 ISO. Overall, he had a .333 wOBA, and 115 wRC+. Mercer had the seventh best wRC+, eighth best OPS, and wOBA among shortstops with 300+ plate appearances. He was also the best hitting rookie shortstop, leading them all in those three statistics.
While Mercer was light years ahead of Barmes in terms of offense, his defense was far behind Barmes. Mercer had -10 defensive runs saved with a -14.4 UZR/150. While he was one of the better hitting shortstops, he was one of the worst fielding shortstops. He had the seventh fewest DRS and the second worst UZR/150 among players with 550+ innings at the middle infield position.
This season, the Pirates will have maybe the most enticing player in the National League Central, and maybe one of the most exciting players in baseball. That's Oneil Cruz. Cruz didn't do terribly in his rookie season, batting .233/.294/.450 through 361 plate appearances. Cruz is known for his massive power potential, having top of the line raw power. He also hit 17 home runs with a .218 ISO. Overall he had a .320 wOBA, and 106 wRC+. Like Castro, Cruz also did outstanding in the home stretch. From August 20th through the end of the year, Cruz had a .275/.353/.523 slash, and 145 wRC+. However, the most impressive part is that he was much more selective at the plate, and made the proper adjustments to his plate discipline.
While lots of fans rag on Cruz's defense, it's not as bad as many point out. Sure, he had -15.4 UZR/150 and -9 OAA in less than 800 innings, but he also had +1 DRS and was well above average in terms of range factor. Both RF/9 and RF/G pinned him as a great defensive shortstop and even better than the National League Gold Glove winner, Dansby Swanson.
Oneil Cruz clears the Mercer/Barmes duo. Sure, he wasn't nearly as good as Barmes when it comes to defense, but he was still better than Mercer in 2013. Plus he did outstanding in the last month and a half of the year, making major improvements to his game. Cruz has massive potential going into 2023, but even ignoring that, he was still more valuable than the 2013 Mercer/Barmes duo.