10-4-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)
Clearly, in the eyes of many Pirates Fans, the most exciting aspect of the Pittsburgh Pirates final series of the season was the debut of their tallest position player in team history, 6’7” shortstop Oneil Cruz. Once the news of his promotion dropped on Friday night, the show that Cole Tucker put on with the bat and in the field was quickly overshadowed. As Bryan Reynolds was in the midst of going 4 for 5, on his way to .303 AVG, .914 OPS and 6.0 bWAR/5.7 fWAR season, it was Cruz’s exit velocity-including when he got out-that filled my timeline. And, when Michael Chavis gave the Pirates the lead with a double down the line, it was the RBI single from Cruz-his first hit and RBI of his career-that stole the headlines. Even in a 6-3 season finale loss to to the Reds, what would otherwise been a meaningless homer run caused fans to leap from their seats, and couches; or a recliner in my case.
Believe me, I was just as excited as anyone about the debut of one of the Pirates top prospects. Hell, I watched every single at bat of his debut from my phone; with this view.
Whereas my partner in crime Gary Morgan was looking at this.
Still, there were some in the Pirates Fanbase that couldn’t just be happy with what was taking place; feeling the need to question how it all went down. So, instead of simply soaking in the moment, there had to be some sort of hot take or perceived negative that applied to this situation.
More than one perceived this as a money grab by Bob Nutting to get fans in the stands during the last home stand or to appease fans after a long losing season; with the same point being attached to the Roansy Contreras call-up earlier in the week. Others saw these as being long overdue, and that the only reason for it not happening sooner was to manipulate service time, as well as for Nutting to pad his wallet once again. Some even took some of the joy out of the situation by complaining about Cruz’s placement in the lineup; taking one last parting shot at Derek Shelton as the season came to a close.
Now the first point of contention, concerning fans being rewarding or trying to squeeze a few extra bucks out of them, is pretty hard to argue against-or in favor of for that matter-because there really aren’t cold hard facts to bolster your case. Still, my only real disagreements and/or concerns with this train of thought were: 1) It would be a bad precedence to set, as far as making moves to placate the fanbase. 2) If, Nutting was trying to make more money, why in the world would he want to bring up Contreras for a Wednesday start, as opposed to a Friday, Saturday or Sunday? Or, why wouldn’t he have brought Cruz up for the Friday game as well? 3) You are giving Bob Nutting way too much credit when it comes to any decision remotely related to anything that goes on between the chalk lines. 4) It’s not like you can pack the house with a one day notice. 5) Moves like these actually benefit the player. I noted on Saturday afternoon, prior to Cruz’s debut, one day of service time on the Major League Roster equals healthcare for a lifetime. 6) Promotions at the end of the season can be used as a potential motivator going into the off-season. See what you are working for Oneil and Roansy. Don’t you want to get back as soon as you possibly can?
In the next apparent slight concerning not handling promotion properly, there are similar complications in addressing Shelton’s positioning of Cruz, and his known power potential, towards the back of the lineup. Yes, Shelton is the one who ultimately makes up the card that is handed to the ump prior to the start of every game. And, yes Cruz had shown effortless power at times in the Minor Leagues, especially since his promotion to Triple-A; hitting five homers in six games; including this absolute jack to straightaway center.
However, as we all know power doesn’t always immediately transfer to the Majors. Also can’t we merely be happy with him being in the lineup, rather than manufacturing reasons why you don’t like Shelton? He has given us plenty of real reasons to question his performance throughout the season.
Then, we eventually come to one of the most firmly held positions, where facts can overwhelm a fairly flimsy stance on service manipulation. Yes, it is a real and often used practice to keep control over a player at fraction of the cost. Often guised as a needing to work on a certain aspect of their game or needing to prove their worth over a specified amount of time that isn’t simply a small sample size; which can often be a double edged sword, as many utilized an extremely small sample size to justify Cruz earning a shot on the Big League club earlier than Saturday. A few fans even went as far as comparing Cruz to a Fernando Tatis, Jr. or a Vlad Guerrero, Jr. in an attempt to make their point.
First off, Tatis and Guerrero are the exceptions not the rule. Guerrero never had an average below .300 after his first year in pro-ball when he hit .271 as a 17 year old in Advanced Rookie Level and his OPS ranged between .808 and 1.073 each year; while Tatis continuously improved as he moved up with no drop offs or bumps in the road. In 2017 at only 18 years old he hit 22 jacks between High-A and Double-A. He then came back in 2018 and hit 16 homers, as his average stayed steady going from .278 to .286. Plus, neither had to deal with an entire year away from the Minors like Cruz did in 2020. Add in the facts that Cruz hit .269 with only one homer in half a season in Double-A in 2019, started this year with a .256 average for the month of May and then was on the IL for almost two months after he had started to heat up. How, is this anywhere near the same path as the two players mentioned, and exactly when should Cruz have been promoted straight from Altoona to the Pirates? Was it before he was only able to compile 76 at bats with the Curve beginning on August 20th through the end of the season, during which he struck out 27.6% of the time, walked 6.5% and had a single homer going into the last series of the season?
Cruz wasn’t held back these past 2 years because of the Pirates. He was held back by a pandemic and an injury, along with inconsistent performance . It’s easy to point out those five homers with the Indians, but it is ignoring the big picture.
And truthfully it takes a little bit of enjoyment out of moments like this.
And, before you decide to get started with any preemptive frustrations as to where Cruz will start the season next year-because I can already feel those coming on-let’s just see how the off-season plays out first and how Cruz looks in Spring Training.
There are 177 days until Opening Day 2022. It’s gonna be a long off-season, with much more pertinent discussions to be had.