Oneil Cruz Could Be a Wild Card for the Pirates
If you look at the Pittsburgh Pirates' recent signings, you will notice a trend of defense-first players being prioritized, but one of the team's top prospects, Oneil Cruz, is known more for his bat. Cruz is a 6'7" short stop who has unusual pop in his bat for his position, and it is that bat that the Pirates will need to make way for in Pittsburgh.
There has been plenty of speculation around if Cruz could/should stick at short. His glove hasn't been the most reliable (career 92.7% fielding percentage), and the Pirates have better options in the system to man that spot.
Cruz's athleticism makes him very much like a wild card in Derek Shelton's (future) hand. He has the bat to be potent at the major league level, Shelton will just need to decide where to play him.
It could be at short stop, but, as I mentioned, there are better fielders available in Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman. For an organization that seems to be prioritizing defense, it's hard to believe they would take a defensive downgrade at one of the most important positions on the field. If things don't work out the way they think it will at third base, Tucker could move over there. A mid-season trade of Adam Frazier could open up a spot at second for Newman to slide into; leaving short stop open for Cruz to occupy. But, a lot has to happen for it to make sense for Cruz to stay at his most natural position.
Then there is third base. Cruz played third base a little in West Virginia, and though he was clearly not comfortable in his short time there, it should be a pretty natural move for him to make. Of course, that would require the organization to sour on defensive star, Ke'Bryan Hayes. Hayes recently won the minor league gold glove at third base, but needs to show more at the plate to be a legitimate third baseman. A failure of Hayes to do that, could cause third to open up for Cruz.
The last position would be the outfield, and I think this is the most likely. Gregory Polanco is currently the Pirates' right fielder, and there are major question marks surrounding him. He is returning this season from shoulder surgery, and, while doctors have expressed confidence in his health, there's no telling how he will play. Part of that is because we were unsure of what the Pirates had in Polanco before the injury. He seems to have the tools, but has yet to put it all together and time is running out on his Pirates career. So, a move to right field looks like the path of least resistance for Oneil. The question is, can he play there? He has no professional experience in the outfield, and we've seen from Polanco what it could look like if a guy isn't totally comfortable out there. So, while it's easy to make that move on paper, it may not translate to the field.
Wherever Cruz plays, it needs to be a position that allows him to use his cannon of a right arm. MLB.com recently tabbed Cruz as the strongest arm in the minor leagues. So, while his glove isn't a strength, he can make up for it by minimizing infield hits, or, in the outfield, gunning guys down at the plate.
This conversation may very well be a year early as Cruz is not expected to make his MLB debut until 2021, but, if you listen to him, it could be this season.
One of the benefits of loading up on short stops is it affords the team some flexibility to shift a player's position based upon team needs. Short stops often have the athleticism to play anywhere on the field as long as their bat profiles well at the position. With Tucker, Newman, and Cruz, the Pirates have the luxury of moving guys around to give them the best lineup they can make.
Oneil Cruz is a guy to watch this season. If there is another injury-plagued season like 2019, and he shows he's ready, he may get his wish of a trip to Pittsburgh.
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife