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Demilio: Time to Let Oneil Cruz Finish the Season in Pittsburgh

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On Wednesday, the Pirates promoted 21-year-old Roansy Contreras to make his Major League debut in Pittsburgh. There were two main reasons as to why they promoted the right-hander despite making just one start at Triple-A Indianapolis. First, they wanted to give him a taste of action at the Major League level and wanted to see how he would fare in the big leagues. Secondly, they rewarded him for a great season he had in the upper levels of the minor leagues in 2021.

It was a successful debut for Contreras, who pitched three scoreless innings against the Cubs. He allowed three hits, walked a batter and picked up four strikeouts on the night.

The debut gave the Pirates and their fans a glimpse into the future and the hope that has been building as general manager Ben Cherington and co. have tore down the Pirates in order to build them back up again. It’s time to give another top prospect his first taste of the big leagues just as they did with Contreras.

That prospect is shortstop Oneil Cruz, the Pirates third-best prospect and #52 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

Like Contreras, Cruz spent the bulk of the season in Double-A Altoona before a late promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis to end the season. Also like Contreras, Cruz missed time this season due to a forearm injury. In 62 games for Altoona, Cruz slashed .292/.346/.536 (136 wRC+) with 15 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs 18 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) and 40 runs batted in. Cruz has appeared in five games with Indianapolis, and is batting .526 with an OPS of 1.836 and four home runs. He collected four hits including a double and a homer on Wednesday.

Cruz is a bit of an anomaly at shortstop standing at 6’7, leaving to some wondering if he should move off of the position, but to date no change has been made as he has not played anywhere other than shortstop defensively in the Bucs’ organization. He has an outstanding arm that registers as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Cruz offers big time power potential and is a plus-runner, giving him an intriguing skill set that scouts love.

Former Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington acquired Cruz from the Dodgers in the Tony Watson trade back in 2017. Ever since coming to Pittsburgh, Cruz has trended straight up and has become one of the better prospects in all of baseball.

The Pirates need to give Cruz the same treatment they did with Contreras. They should give him a taste of the big leagues and reward him for the season he had in the minors. By doing this, the Pirates will be giving two key pieces of their future plans as well as their fans a snippet of what is to come. By giving both Contreras and Cruz brief Major League experience, the Bucs will be lighting a fire under the two of them to get back to the big leagues as soon as possible, while simultaneously showing the rest of the farm system that hard work and productivity pays off.

With just four games to go in the regular season, the time is now to give Cruz a shot in the final stretch. Though 2021 was another dreadful season in terms of wins and losses, the Pirates have the opportunity to create some buzz and optimiam heading into the offseason.

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