Rum Bunter Staff Predictions for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates: Brenden Zielinski
Most Valuable Player - Oneil Cruz
Yes, I'm starting out with a bang! Many would say that Bryan Reynolds is the clear answer to be a potential MVP candidate, but if Oneil Cruz develops properly next season, he could easily put up a potential MVP level stat line and potentially become one of the next great players in all of baseball. In his rookie season with the Pirates, the young 23-year-old shortstop struggled at the plate, posting a .233/.294/.450, with 17 home runs, 54 RBIs, and a 106 wRC+ across 87 games.
Cruz had one of the worst strikeout percentages in all of baseball at 34.9%, constantly chased pitches out of the zone, was a below average fielder at shortstop, and was abysmal against breaking pitches, only hitting a .166 batting average against them. However, even with his negatives, there were a lot of positives to his season.
Last season, Cruz was in the top 90+ percentile in terms of average exit velocity, max exit velocity, barrel rate, sprint speed, and arm strength according to StatCast. While he was below average in terms of plate discipline, he was still able to walk 7.8% of the time at the plate and stole 10 bases. Even in a dissapointing season, Cruz's power potential was on full display after hitting 17 home runs and 13 doubles with the Pirates.
At 6'7", Oneil Cruz is a physical specimen and it is almost unheard of for a player that tall to be playing shortstop, but Cruz is finding a way to make it work. One of Cruz's personal goals this year is to become a 30/30 or 40/40 player (home runs/stolen bases), which shows that he is confident in his ability to improve. If Cruz is able to put together a 30/30 season after just 87 career games and improves defensively, that would be quite an amazing improvement! The raw potential is there; let's hope he finally breaks out and becomes the team's MVP for the foreseeable future. If not, Bryan Reynolds will be the clear lock for MVP.