Oneil Cruz is Still a Prospect

6-14-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

Watching a saga unfold is supposed to exhaust you to a degree I suppose. This one has just been extra.

It’s not that I don’t understand the frustration. The Pirates haven’t hit most of the season, and here’s this kid capable of crushing baseballs with a flick of a wrist just one level away.

Here’s the problem though, Oneil Cruz has become a cause, rather than a prospect to watch develop, and make no mistake, at the big league level, or left in AAA, Cruz is every bit a prospect, who still needs to develop.

This isn’t a finished project, and I’m not saying that by way of telling you the Pirates haven’t played games with his service time. I’m saying it because while picking sides and turning this entire situation into a social issue to fight over, somehow we lost sight of the most foundational part of the whole thing, he’s still a kid who needs to work on things.

I say all this because as most of you know, I’ve put out there (and now seen it echoed multiple times from others) that Cruz will get the call this Friday.

When he does, man, this isn’t the end of the journey, but it sure as hell should be the end of this virtue signaling mess talking about one of the Pirates top prospects has become.

For instance, if you were to so much as utter that you have legit concerns over his defense at short stop, you’re met with ‘He should be up here learning’, which, ok, I can see that side of things. How much more is he really going to learn in AAA? Is he going to become a sure thing there because he spends 2 more months in AAA? Not likely right?

Then some folks take it a step further, ‘Errors don’t matter’, WHAT? Of course they do. Errors matter quite a bit. Some people like to go through as many errors he’s been charged with via video which is available if you really look for it and start assigning blame on his freaking range. Meaning he gets to more balls than others do and that unfairly pegs him with errors. Or, the field in that visiting park was a cow pasture. Look, there are elements of that to be sure, but folks, errors matter. Teams will deal with them as a guy is learning, and a bat can overrule what people are watching for a stretch but if you want someone like this to become a GREAT BASEBALL PLAYER as opposed to a GREAT HITTER, well it’s going to need addressed isn’t it?

When you sit here making up something as silly as “errors don’t matter” just to try to prove your point, um, maybe your point kinda sucks.

Why can’t it just be ok that this kid isn’t a finished product?

He’s been tagged as a generational talent. That’s super exciting, and I’m sorry to be a wet blanket here but let’s be real clear. Cruz has some generational tools. Tools he has yet to have completely grown into. A very good player is in there, but watering down the word generational is only going to set yourself up for disappointment and the player for perpetually being underwhelming.

Generational if we’re real honest is probably already here, and I don’t mean like right out of Spring, I mean he’s already forced his way onto this club before the age of 23. Again, I don’t say this to crap on the kid or make some excuse for why keeping him down to hit Super 2 was the right choice, I say it because if you’re expecting Juan Soto, I think that’s unfair to the kid. If you think he’s Wander Franco, again, I don’t think that’s fair to expect.

He doesn’t need tags or social media campaigns, he needs to develop, and he needs to do that in order to become the very best version of Oneil Cruz he can become. That didn’t have to happen in AAA, could have just as easily happened in MLB but develop, rest assured, must happen. This isn’t anything more than fact, he isn’t a finished product.

The bat, while exciting, has issues too. He has the ability to hit a baseball harder than just about anyone I’ve ever seen live. It’s actually frightening to see in person, and that’s not hyperbole. But this is a really hard league, and pitchers are really good. That guy you laugh at because he has a 5.23 ERA for the Tigers, well, good chance he’s better than 70% of what Cruz has been facing, and even better chance his coaching staff is already working on a book on Oneil. That long swing and propensity to chase if not reeled in becomes a method of attack. It’s something he’ll likely have to learn up here to be honest.

That’s going to take patience. Not just from us, because at the end of the day if our whining meant anything Yu Chang would have been cut the day after his Pirates debut, but from the staff. They need to stubbornly keep playing him, even when the league starts pushing back. They need to identify what’s being attacked and help him sure it up.

Cruz needs to be open to the training and guidance. Something that quite frankly hasn’t been the easiest to achieve. Communication is important, but when you make something as important as learning another position seem like a punishment and or excuse to keep a kid in the minors, well, sometimes that player is going to call you on your bullshit. At the MLB level, I can already tell you he’ll start at SS, but I damn near guarantee he’ll wind up in the outfield at least on a spot start level if only to prove the team wants to see it. Add in a rash of errors at short and it won’t be a soft pedal approach much longer.

All of this stuff will play out, and if you are so locked in on what you think the answers should have been or resentful of the path you might just forget to actually sit back and watch what the kid is doing.

If you foolishly convince yourself that errors are just A-OK, or that his hard hit rate automatically equals generational, you might just forget that failure is part of the process for many too. More likely you’ll just blame the org for failing to develop him if he struggles though right?

Let’s start this journey with some basic facts.

  • Super-2 is a garbage designation. Both the players and owners failed to remove it from the game in the hotly contested CBA negotiation. Oh, they both put in some BS to incentivize teams to stop shooting for it, but they never reached the threshold where that 4th year of arbitration was less valuable than the reward. I say all this because clearly, the game didn’t care as much about the ugliness of this rule as you do.
  • Oneil Cruz has all the tools to be a good defender, and good short stop, he just hasn’t become that. And he’s had years to perfect it. The Pirates didn’t try him in the outfield for the first time until last season and even that was a cameo. Those tools still exist, and I’m hardly going to say he can’t get better, Kevin Newman sure did right? And his tools are nowhere near Cruz. I have my doubts, again, he’s had time to really improve there, but I use Newman specifically here, he did massively improve at this level defensively, so how can I not leave room for a kid arguably more talented on that side of the ball?

    Playing outfield is something that makes perfect sense for a player like this. His body type and frame coupled with his Dave Parker like arm could really be a weapon out there. Long term I could argue it would be better for his body too, asking him to bend over for 9 innings every day coupled with that torque he develops in his swing sounds like a Martha Stewart recipe for back problems. Look, the Pirates aren’t crazy for thinking it’s a good idea, but they were full of it for expecting Oneil or fans to accept it as the reason he had to stay in AAA. I think that’s fair. I also think it’s fair as a fan to accept that moving to another spot could benefit the player long term. Let’s watch it play out shall we? I mean all that stuff about the arm is true, but learning to pick up fly balls doesn’t come naturally for everyone.
  • His pitch recognition and willingness to chase garbage has been an issue. The swing has a tendency to get long. When he had success last season the swing shortened and he was quicker to the ball, more handsy. When he struggled early this year, long, slower, chasing more trying to catch up. When he corrected it, shorter, better eye, quicker to the ball. Oh, it’s in there folks, but he needs fine tuned. I’m firmly of the belief that can happen in MLB, but I’m also quite firm that we’ll see it slip, because that longer version of his swing is his natural path. Done it all his life and as soon as guys struggle they tend to revert to what feels best, not what works best. Again, the work isn’t done.
  • Of every player in the system right now, there is nobody who has as much game changing ability in the batter’s box. That was just as true last season as it is right now. The Pirates could have started him in MLB and been a better team in my mind, but once they made the decision to send him down and manipulate his time, he didn’t force the issue until sometime in May. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Pirates scrap the whole Super-2 thing if he hits .500 in April, I’m not that naïve, but I will say he made their argument easy.

When Jack Suwinski came up to the club from AA Altoona, everyone assumed it was just an emergency and he’d be sent right back out. We were wrong. In fact most of us had him listed as like 3rd or 4th in line for outfield call ups, again, we were wrong.

Being wrong is ok, but part of the reason we can so easily accept that this kid caught us off guard is because we didn’t create a laundry list of expectations for him complete with a dark and light side of the force. We didn’t decide that some people are rooting for the owner to beat the prospects with this guy. We didn’t decide that all the other prospects were pissed that Jack got the call because he wasn’t the most talented prospect in the system.

We didn’t decide we should call for trades because he’d never figure out something before he even had more than a cameo at this level.

Opinion is fine, everyone has them and the conversations surrounding them is the very essence of being a fan. Creating false narratives though, or creating ways to prove your point should never overtake one thing, actually watching the player and forming your thoughts based on actual baseball.

Oneil Cruz is going to be a Pittsburgh Pirate, and it’s going to happen really soon. When he gets here, let’s hit the reset button. Let’s not forget the crap we walked through to get here but allow it to at least fade into the background long enough to allow us as fans to form genuine opinions of the player he is, and the player he’s becoming. Don’t allow your preconceived notions to rob you of this. I still think generational is a stretch of a word here, but the tools say that kind of ceiling is in there. Personally I think to reach it asks for too big a jump, but at 6′ 7″ who’s better equipped for taking a shot?

Open your mind, and lets move forward together as fans of this club and allow ourselves to follow a prospect without worrying about who was right or who was wrong. What was moral and what wasn’t. Let’s just watch this supremely talented kid come up here and play baseball.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

2 thoughts on “Oneil Cruz is Still a Prospect

  1. I also believe that players continue to develop at the MLB level but some have a harder time adjusting. Cruz seems to have some difficulty dealing with adversity (not wanting to play OF seems to have been a problem for him) and struggling additionally at the MLB level would probably not be helpful. I think a prospect is better off having initial success that may be aided by being called up when they are playing well even if they do regress for a bit when the league adjusts. They still have the success to look back on to help bolster confidence.

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