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Perrotto: Oneil Cruz’s Spring Statistics Feel Real



Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

I learned not to get excited about spring training statistics long ago.

In 1995, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a 27-year-old rookie first baseman named Mark Johnson who tore up the Grapefruit League and surprisingly won a starting job. The former Dartmouth quarterback hit some of the longest home runs I’ve seen.

However, Johnson went deep just 38 times in seven major-league seasons.

In 2012, the Pirates had 26-year-old rookie first baseman Matt Hague, whose seven home runs led the Grapefruit League. Hague never homered in a regular-season game, getting just 91 plate appearances between 2012 and 2015.

Thus, I should know better than to put too much stock by the numbers that shortstop Oneil Cruz is posting this spring for the Pirates. Yet they are hard to ignore.

Cruz is 11 for 31 (.355) with seven home runs, 14 RBIs and an otherworldly OPS of 1.477. He has also scored 13 runs in 11 games.

Those are noteworthy statistics, whether compiled in spring training, the regular season or even American Legion ball. They are impressive enough to break my longstanding rule and get excited about them.

The biggest thing the number shows is that Cruz is healthy again. He was limited to nine games last season after sustaining a broken ankle on April 9 while making an awkward slide into home plate during a game against the Chicago White Sox.

The seven home runs indicate that Cruz still has the type of raw power that could enable him to hit 30 home runs yearly. The 13 runs show that Cruz has recaptured his speed, though he’s been able to jog around the bases a lot.

The other encouraging stats are eight strikeouts and five walks. That is a step forward for a player who has often swung wildly and indiscriminately during his 98-game career in the big leagues. Cruz has 138 strikeouts and drawn just 35 walks in 410 plate appearances.

It is hard to tell exactly what kind of player the 25-year-old Cruz will be in the major leagues on a small sample. He has shown flashes of stardom with 19 career home runs,13 stolen bases and exit velocities as high as anyone’s.

Cruz has the tools to be a star with his power, speed and a strong arm that can make the longest throws from the hole at shortstop.

The biggest question surrounding Cruz before getting hurt was if he could turn his raw talent into production. The biggest question coming into spring training was if Cruz had completely recovered from his severe injury.

Cruz has proven to be healthy, and he has been extremely productive. However, the Grapefruit League and the regular season are very different things. We won’t find out how the spring stats translate to the regular season until next Thursday when the Pirates open the season against the Marlins in Miami.

Yet Cruz’s spring stats sure feel like a harbinger of good things to come this summer than him becoming the next Mark Johnson or Matt Hague.

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