This is one in a series of stories breaking down members of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster.
Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz possesses some of the best tools in all of Major League Baseball.
He can hit the ball as hard and as far as anyone. He has elite speed and a rocket for an arm that is on display every time he throws across the diamond. The 6-foot-7 Cruz is truly a unicorn in the sport.
That’s why is absence was such a big blow to the Pirates this past season.
Cruz played in only nine games in 2023 before he fractured his left ankle while sliding into home plate agaisnt the Chicago White Sox on Apr. 9 at PNC Park. The injury resulted in surgery, and while initial projections called for Cruz to return to the field in August, ended up costing the 25-year-old the rest of the season.
The sample was small, but Cruz did some impressive things over his nine games played last season. There were more flashes that he showed in his first extended look in the big leagues in 2022.
In 87 games during the 2022 season, Cruz went deep 17 times to go along with 54 RBIs and 10 steals. That would put him on pace for roughly 32 home runs, 101 RBIs and 19 steals over the course of a full season.
While there were obvious elements to his game to be enamored with, there were also some concerns. Cruz totaled 361 plate appearances during the 2022 season and went down on strikes 126 times (34.9% strikeout rate). His 7.8% walk rate was below average and led to a sub-.300 on-base percentage (.294).
In his brief showing last season, Cruz struck out eight times and walked seven times in 40 plate appearances, a noticeable improvement in both areas from 2022.
The Pirates were certainly hoping that Cruz would put it all together at the plate and in the field in 2023, but he never got a chance to do so.
Moving forward, it’s fair to question how Cruz will look coming off of a significant injury. Will his lateral movement at short be affected? Will there be a decrease in his speed while running the bases?
The truth is, we won’t know for sure until Cruz reports to spring training next month. Cruz, though, believes he is back to normal.
“All good. 100% now. Everything’s like it’s supposed to be,” Cruz said at PiratesFest through interpreter and Pirates coach Stephen Morales.
Cruz’s presence, especially in the lineup, should provide a big boost to the Pirates as they look to improve upon their 76-86 showing from a season ago.
Whether manager Derek Shelton slots him into the top of the lineup or in the middle of it, Cruz has the potential to be a game-changer for Pittsburgh.