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Perrotto: Just Imagine Oneil Cruz in the Home Run Derby

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH – Oneil Cruz uses a translator when he talks with the media, which is not unusual for most foreign players in the major leagues.

However, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop did not need a translator when I posed a simple question before Wednesday night’s 5-4 victory in 10 innings over the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Cruz later singled home the winning run for his third career walk-off hit.

I wanted to know if Cruz would accept if he would receive an invitation from MLB to participate in the All-Star Home Run Derby on July 15 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Baltimore Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson is the only confirmed member of the eight-man field.

“Yes,” Cruz said with a big smile. “Yes, yes, yes. Definitely yes.”

Cruz has 12 home runs this season, which doesn’t put him close to the league leaders. However, he does have prodigious power.

A case in point was on June 22 when Cruz hit a home run into the Allegheny River off the Tampa Bay Rays’ Zach Eflin at PNC Park. It was just the sixth ball to splash down on the fly since the ballpark opened in 2001.

Not to get all Statcasty here but some of the measurements encapsulate Cruz’s raw power. His average exit velocity is 95.0 mph and his hardest-hit ball in 2024 came off the bat at 121.7 mph. He also has a hard-hit percentage of 52.7.

Those numbers are among the best in the big leagues. And his bat speed of 78.7 mph ranks No. 1.

Cruz’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t connect often enough on those big swings. His 32.6% strikeout rate is way below the line, and he has punched out 101 times in 288 plate appearances.

However, Cruz’s propensity to swing and miss would not matter in the Home Run Derby. He would be facing batting practice fastballs thrown right over the heart of the plate, the type of pitches even the worst major-league hitters can hammer.

This season, eight of Cruz’s 12 homers have traveled at least 400 feet, including the last five. His blast into the Allegheny was measured at 445 feet and he then hit a 458-foot bomb two days later off the Reds’ Fernando Cruz in Cincinnati.

Factor in that the baseballs are juiced in the derby and it’s easy to envision the 6-foot-7 Cruz hitting home runs of more than 500 feet.

The Pirates rarely have a participant in the derby. The results have been disastrous when they have.

Jason Bay was shut out in 2006 at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Josh Bell bombed out quickly at Cleveland’s Progressive Field in 2019, though he may have hit the highest popup in the history of mankind in the process.

It will be interesting to see if Cruz is asked to participate in this year’s event. The All-Star Game is about entertainment, though, and it would be captivating to watch Cruz try to hit a ball from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to somewhere in Oklahoma.

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Jesse Gonder

Would be fun to see Cruz strike out in home run derby . . .

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