When the Pittsburgh Pirates and General Manager made the decision to trade starting pitcher Joe Mugrove, I must admit that I was a little conflicted; and I still might be.
Last year before Major League Baseball, and the world for that matter, were shutdown, Gary and myself were sitting at 412 Brewery, enjoying some delicious beers and taking in a Pirates Spring Training game with Big Joe on the bump. As Musgrove unleashed his first curveball either of us had seen that year, we both put down our beers, looked at each other and talked about the amount of movement that wasn’t there before.
Flash forward to the end of the year, as we all listened to both Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton speak about Musgrove building on his success in 2021; while at the same time knowing that he could be on his way out if the right offer came along; which obviously happened on January 19 of this past off-season when Cherington pulled the trigger to bring in the haul from San Diego of hometown reliever David Bednar, centerfielder Hudson Head, pitcher Drake Fellows, catcher Endy Rodriguez by way of the Mets and lefty starting pitcher Omar Cruz.
With that Big Joe went home to eventually throw a no-hitter for the Padres on April 9th, sending Yinzer Social Media into a tailspin; but I digress, as Pirates Fans should be focused on the present and the future, which is made almost impossible by said Yinzer Social Media. And I digress even further.
Since taking the helm of the Pirates, Cherington drafted five right handed pitchers, signed eleven more between 2019 and 2021 on the International Market and picked up at least a couple through free agency and waivers. Sure, he signed Tyler Anderson, a lefty, to a Major League deal, but we all know what that end goal of that is. So, as a fan of the team you have to wonder where that crafty lefty could emerge from. Well, it could come from within their own system, if everything works out as planned.
Originally signed by the Padres at the beginning of the 2017-18 for $100,000 out of Hermosillo, Mexico, Cruz began his professional career with San Diego’s Rookie Ball Affiliate in the Arizona League in 2018, before earning a mid-season promotion to the Class A Short Season, Tri-City Dust Devils. Between the two leagues he posted a 1.96 ERA, a 1.323 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 42.1 innings.
To begin 2019, he once again found himself with the Dust Devils, but only for two starts and seven innings, ultimately being promoted once again to the Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps; where he started to display more command/control as his walk rate dropped from 5.62 per 9 innings over his previous three placements to 2.39 for the remainder of the year. His ERA did see a bump to 2.76, yet, his WHIP fell to 1.122, as his strikeout rate remained at a solid 11.39 batters per 9 inning pace.
Set to continue the strides he had made during his 20 year old season, Cruz instead had to settle for an impressive Instructional League performance, without a regular Minor League Baseball Season in 2020; and eventually a trade to the Pirates in the off-season, where he would be assigned to the High A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
As possibly the least notable member of the trade, aside from maybe Drake Fellows who has yet to pitch a professional inning; and at the time eclipsed by David Bednar mostly because he was from Mars, PA, it was hard to gauge many reasonable expectations for Cruz, although some projected him as a potential back of the rotation starter for the future.
Unfortunately for Cruz, his first start in the Pirates Organization didn’t go quite as planned, as he gave up four runs, walked five and struck out four in two innings of work; good for a 18.00 ERA. However, in his past four starts he is sporting a 1.72 ERA, has struck out 27 and only walked 6 more batters total, in 15.2 innings of work; an obviously encouraging sign.
At only 22 years old, there is plenty of time for him to refine his three pitch arsenal of an average fastball and deceptive change, with a plus curve, that could make him the prototypical crafty lefty to pair with the abundance of right handers for the Pirates as he moves up the system. Hopefully finding is way to PNC Park as early as 2023; but at least to Altoona by the end of the season if he continues to progress.