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Oneil Cruz’s Solid Season Could Become Great With One Improvement

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

If only one thing was known for sure regarding Oneil Cruz heading into this season it’s that he was going to have to shake off some rust. 

Cruz appeared in only nine games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season after suffering an ankle fracture on Apr. 9. The end result was surgery and while preliminary reports were that he would return to the field late in the season, Cruz was sidelined for the entire year.

I think I’ve already said or would have said that if the first six to eight weeks were a little up-and-down for him, that wouldn’t have surprised me coming off of basically a missed year and a major injury,” general manager Ben Cherington said at PNC Park on Saturday. 

It was a long road back for the 25-year-old, but Cruz returned to the field in a Pirates’ uniform for Opening Day in Miami.

Cruz has played 59 of the Pirates’ 65 games to start the season and is slashing .247/.303/.435 with 13 doubles, a triple, nine home runs, 25 RBIs and five steals..

At times this year, Cruz has looked like an All-Star caliber player. When Cruz connects, there aren’t many others across the league who hit the ball as hard or as far as he does.

At other times, he’s looked lost at the plate as strikeouts build. 

The overall numbers for Cruz this season have been solid, but the peaks and valleys he’s gone through have been extreme.

Through the first week or so of the season, Cruz was rolling before falling into a prolonged slump that lasted for much of April. From Apr. 8-30, Cruz hit just .183 with a .500 OPS and a single home run. His first half of May was excellent but he again scuffled in the second half of the month.

He had some really good days and some challenging days,” Cherington said. “So, I feel like we’re seeing improvement. I feel like we’re seeing more consistency. It’s not in a straight line, it’s never going to be in a straight line. It’s not going to be perfect day to day, just gradually keep getting better. There’s going to be some jagged edges to it. But, I think we’re seeing all parts of his game start to arch toward consistency.”

Though the sample size to start June is still too small to draw any real conclusions from, Cruz has been playing well.

In six games this month, the Pirates’ shortstop is hitting .292 with a .930 OPS. He has multiple hits in three of his six games played and has a pair of home runs, including a 462-foot blast against the Dodgers on Thursday.

At this point, the Pirates are probably far enough into the season where Cruz has enough playing time under his belt to where the ill effects of missing the bulk of last season aren’t as apparent as they were during the earlier portion of the schedule. 

“I think it’s a little bit more reps and then I think it’s just the more stable he stays in his setup, the better we are,” manager Derek Shelton said when asked how Cruz can show more consistency. “He’s a big guy and when you see a lot of moving parts, that’s when you see him get out of whack a little bit. Controlling the moves is really important.” 

Cruz is the biggest difference-maker in the Pirates’ lineup. More consistency from him could go a long way to further elevate an improving offense of late.

Maybe what he’s shown so far in June is a sign of more steadiness.

He’ll be tested during the Pirates’ upcoming road trip. At PNC Park this season, Cruz is batting .296 with a .946 OPS. On the road, he’s batting .200 with a 538 OPS.

A trip to Coors Field after a series in St. Louis seems like a good place to try and remedy those drastic home/road splits, which would be another avenue to being a more consistent player. 

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Mike Lanza

He’s had a solid season thus far? Since when is a sub-.750 OPS solid, especially when he hardly ever faces lefthanded pitchers, against whom his OPS is about .350? Also, his fielding continues to be horrible. I’d call his season thus far mediocre at best.

Mike Lanza

His sub-.750 OPS is slightly above average for the MLB. Lowering his value are the facts that he has very few PAs against left handed pitching, and when he does hit against LHP, his numbers are horrible. Also, his strikeout rate is ~33%, which is super-high. Strikeouts are overvalued in OPS because they count as much as a batted ball. A batted ball that turns into an out can move baserunners ahead on the bases, and one that turns into an error puts the batter on base.

His fielding numbers are awful.

Fred Kruse

All Star Caliber? I’m not seeing it. He looks like an average player at times and Dave Kingman at short on others.

john benedict

Ive been watching Cruz for years, Altoona to present
The best he’s looked at the plate was the end of 2022 and the 9G
before the injury

I haven’t seen anything close to the progress he had made
In fact, every AB seems as if its a new beginning,
Almost like he’s taken nothing away from his previous trip to the dish
prior look at the pitcher, etc

There is no doubt the injury slowed the progress of understanding the zone
Cruz has maxed out his physical talent, from here moving forward
its up to him how much extra work it takes to regain and retain what he lost at the plate

I attend the games, he is the last to his position and last off the field

Defensively he will play himself out of the position before he takes
full ownership of learning

Good Luck, we could use you

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