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Perrotto: It’s Getting Time for Oneil Cruz to Learn Baseball

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

If Oneil Cruz attended a tryout camp, he would win the day.

The Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop has all the tools. He can hit the ball hard and far. He has a strong arm. He has well above-average speed.

However, Cruz lacks one important aspect that is holding him back from being a star player in the major leagues. He has little feel for the game of baseball.

Cruz negates his tools with poor play. His hitting comes with too many strikeouts. A  lack of accuracy mitigates a lot of his arm strength. His lack of baserunning instincts helps negate the speed element.

Thus, Cruz has been the biggest disappointment in a lineup in a roster full of them through the Pirates’ first 32 games this season.

Cruz is hitting just .239/.288/.342 while playing in all 32 games with three home runs and two stolen bases. He has struck out 46 times in 125 plate appearances while drawing eight walks.

Cruz hasn’t been any better in the field. He has minus-3 defensive runs saved and has been charged with six errors in 30 games.

It could be posited that Cruz is still trying to round into form after being limited to nine games last season because of a broken left ankle. However, he looked healthy during spring training when he belted seven homers in 51 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League.

The Pirates love to point out that Cruz is “still young” when asked about his propensity to make mistakes.

That is true, to an extent. However, now 25, Cruz isn’t exactly THAT young.

He should have a better grasp of the game’s fundamentals by now. This is Cruz’s ninth professional season since the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic and eighth with the Pirates, who acquired him in a trade for Tony Watson in 2017.

Yet there are many days when it seems Cruz has just begun playing the sport within the last week. Some of the mistakes are inexcusable for someone with his experience – errors on routine plays and running into outs on the bases, for example.

This is not to say Cruz still can’t get better. He has the raw talent to be an MVP-caliber player and that isn’t me just buying into the hype. Cruz really could be that good.

A player often compared to Cruz is the Cincinnati Reds’ Elly De La Cruz, another tall shortstop, just two inches shorter than the 6-foot-7 Cruz.

Following a sometimes rocky 98-game rookie season last year, De La Cruz is off to an outstanding start in 2024. He is hitting .280/.389/.579 with eight homers and 18 steals in 31 games.

It must be frustrating for the Pirates to see a similar-type player exploding while playing for a National League Central rival. De La Cruz is also just 22, three years younger than Cruz.

De La Cruz has blown past Oneil Cruz in terms of development. Cruz could still catch up but better grasp the game’s nuances soon.

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