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Horses, not Zebras; Ben Cherington Discusses Oneil Cruz’s Defense

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Pittsburgh Pirates GM Ben Cherington

In the Pirates’ universe, the Oneil Cruz subject is a very touchy one. Some think Cruz should be up in the Majors learning; some think he should learn in the Minors, and then there’s the debate on where he should be playing in the field. Should Cruz be in the outfield, or should he stick at shortstop? This is honestly the biggest question in the Pirates world right now.

On May 13th, general manager Ben Cherington joined Fangraph’s podcast and discussed the Cruz subject on top of other aspects within the Pirates’ organization.

As we all know, Cruz is a 6-foot-7, and if he sticks at shortstop, it will make him one of the tallest to play the position in baseball. Projecting where Cruz should go isn’t an exact science.

“We’re trying not to overcomplicate it quite frankly,” said Cherington on projecting Cruz. “We’re relying on what we’re seeing, what our experts are seeing, and what the metrics are telling us to put together a story of who he is now and what he may become.”

When you look at the box scores of the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, it may not give you a pretty picture of Cruz and his defensive ability at shortstop; you can even watch the games and see that he is still learning or even overcomplicating things.

What you see with Cruz is a hell of a gift with athleticism, a cannon arm, and unbelievable range; these are all gifts that you want to see in a potential shortstop; the major question is, can Cruz put it all together consistently.

“What [Cruz’s] story is telling us right now is that he can absolutely play shortstop at the Major League level,” said Cherington. “We also believe that he has significant offensive ability with a chance to be a dynamic hitter.”

Both Cherington and manager Derek Shelton discussed Cruz when he was sent down after spring training. The biggest takeaway was that they wanted him to learn the outfield, which seems odd, especially after the Cherington quote above. Maybe Cherington will elaborate.

“We want to expose him to other positions,” said Cherington. “One of the reasons is that we do believe that his skills are so uncommon that we owe it to him and the organization to push him to experience new things. When we’re winning we might need him to play at shortstop, but we don’t want to limit it to that quite yet.”

Cherington continued to discuss that several players started at one position, and while some stuck, others moved around until they found their home in the field. Cruz indeed saw back-to-back starts in left-field Saturday and Sunday. What do you think? Should Cruz stick to shortstop, or should he play the outfield?

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