3 bold predictions for the Pirates' 2024 season

I want to share some bold predictions about the Pittsburgh Pirates and their upcoming 2024 season.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Oneil Cruz hits 40 tanks

Shortstop Oneil Cruz has the most power potential among any player the Pirates have had in decades. A 6'7", 215-pound middle infielder, Cruz registered some of the best power numbers in his 2022 rookie season. An ankle injury in 2023 cut what started off as a promising season. But it doesn't seem like his ankle is giving him any problems as Cruz looks back at full strength. If he stays healthy and hits to his potential, it's definitely possible Cruz hits upwards of 40 home runs.

Cruz currently has a 97.7 MPH exit velocity and 26.9 percent barrel rate in Spring Training. He has the highest barrel rate among all batters in Spring Training with at least 40 plate appearances, and it's not particularly close either. Fellow teammate and slugger Jack Suwinski has the second-highest barrel rate at 17.6 percent. The difference between Oneil Cruz and second place is the same difference between Suwinski and the 32nd best barrel rate in Spring. Sure, it's only a small sample size and in Spring Training, but these are the raw power numbers you want to see from someone who is coming off an ankle injury that kept them out for nearly all of 2023.

Cruz has struck out 13 times in 46 plate appearances but does have a solid 10.9 percent walk rate to help offset that. However, Cruz improved his game in the home stretch of 2022, and some of those improvements are still showing today. From August 20th through the end of the '22 season, Cruz batted .275/.353/.523 with a .377 wOBA, and 143 wRC+. Cruz's 31.7 percent strikeout rate might not look good on paper, but it is a major improvement from the 37.6 percent strikeout rate he had up until that point. But even better was he nearly doubled his walk rate from 5.7 percent to 10.2 percent. Cruz simply got better as the season went on. Through the final month of 2022, he had whittled his strikeout rate down below 30 percent at 29.6 percent.

A healthy Oneil Cruz with improving plate discipline? The sky's the limit. I think 30 home runs is a given. He hit 19 in only 87 games in 2022. If he continues to show the improvements he did late in 2022 and in Spring Training this year while staying healthy and playing at least 140 games, 40 will definitely be achievable.