Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Altoona Watch: Cruz taking no shortcuts ☕

Extraordinary height and an impressive skill set make Oneil Cruz an attention-getting prospect in the Pirates’ system.

ONEIL CRUZ - ALTOONA CURVE

ALTOONA, Pa. — At 6-foot-7, Oneil Cruz does not fit the mold of a prototypical shortstop. In fact, he would be the tallest to ever play the position should he make it to the major leagues. 

Cruz, the third-ranked prospect in the Pirates’ organization, has made it to Double-A, donning an Altoona jersey and lining up at shortstop every day.

Cruz is far from being the only tall shortstop within the organization to play for the Curve recently, as former Altoona and current Indianapolis shortstop Cole Tucker is 6-foot-3. With the height and position similarity, it’s easy to compare the two, even with their different skill sets.

“I think the power’s a little bit more for Oneil. He can hit the baseball a long way,” Altoona manager Michael Ryan said. “It’s different movements. He’s long and lanky, I mean he’s longer than (Cole) Tucker and I thought he was long at shortstop and you can double that with Oneil. Oneil looks like he’s not moving but he actually is because he can cover so much ground.”

Cruz, 20, isn’t shocked to find himself with the Curve, but it’s a challenge he’s ready for as he adjusts to life in Altoona.

“I feel good, but in the same way I knew with the way I was playing in Bradenton I was ready to come and play in Altoona,” Cruz said through translator and assistant coach Salvador Paniagua.

It’s been quite the journey to get to this point for the Nizao, Dominican Republic native and he’s had to make more than a few adjustments along the way since being signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

In July of 2017, Cruz was traded by the Dodgers — with current Altoona reliever Angel German — to the Pirates for Tony Watson. And at the time it was a whirlwind for the prospect.

“At the moment, I was thinking I wasn’t going to play anymore, but I knew there was baseball everywhere,” Cruz said. “No matter what team I play for there, it’s going to be the same. It’s baseball.”

Now after three years of playing baseball in America, Cruz has acclimated himself to the game and the way things are done, but it was far from easy for him at the beginning.

“Its been a little different because in your hometown you play the game with your friends and joking around,” Cruz said. “Now, I’m here and need to find a way to play the game the right way and make that adjustment.”

That adjustment period has found its way back in full force for Cruz in Double-A baseball. Through 14 games with the Curve, he’s slashing .239/.294/.370 after slashing .301/.345/.515 in High-A Bradenton.

“Coming from A-ball to Double-A, the speed of the game is different and he’s starting to recognize that now,” Ryan said. “The ball is going to get on you a little bit now at the plate and guys know when to mix in the off-speed. They can throw it over whenever they want.

“The ball is going to come toward your way at short a little bit harder. They’re good things he’s finding out right about now. It’s impressive he’s 20 years old and hanging in there.”

Even at 20, Cruz is aware of what has to happen to get adjusted to play at the level he’s accustomed to, and in the meantime he’s focused on doing what he can at the plate to get better acclimated.

“The hitting side, the adjustments I’ve had to make,” Cruz said. “In High-A, they threw a lot of fastballs. Here they locate more the off-speed and the fastball. I need to make an adjustment to the hitting side and concentrate on getting better defensively. Sometimes it’s just concentrating more on defense and hitting.”

Cruz is not short on confidence by any means and wholeheartedly believes in his ability to play the game, yet he’s realistic enough to know he’s nowhere near ready to continue up the organizational ladder.

“I know I can play everywhere, but I feel like I’m not ready yet to go to Triple-A,” Cruz said. “I need to get more work and more experience here.”

With experience and age, Cruz will begin to fill out his sleek frame, which will raise questions about him continuing at shortstop. His manager, though, believes shortstop will be Cruz’s permanent home for the Pirates.

“I think that if he stays engaged in each game and each pitch for three hours, he’ll be fine at shortstop,” Ryan said. “That’s where his future is, and until the organization makes a decision to change him, I think he’s going to do very good there.”

In just the small sample size Cruz has provided, it’s easy to see why he was the main target in the Watson trade. He’s got plus speed, plus power, and a plus bat which is a dangerous combination.

CURVE’S TOP HITTERS

Brett Pope, 3B — Pope, 23, was 4 for 7 (.571) over the course of the past week with a run scored. Pope is hitting .250 for Altoona this season.

Bligh Madris, OF — Madris, 23, was 6 for 16 (.375) with three doubles, four runs and an RBI. Madris is hitting .260 with 102 hits for the season.

CURVE’S TOP PITCHERS

Top starting performance: Cody Bolton went five innings shutout innings Thursday night against Richmond, earning his second win in a row. Bolton allowed four hits and struck out two. Bolton is 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA for Altoona this season.

Top reliever: Jesus Liranzo threw four shutout innings in two relief appearances this week, allowing one hit a piece in each outing while striking out six. He’s 2-1 with a 0.44 ERA on the season.

NOTABLE ROSTER MOVES/INJURIES

8/8: INF Robbie Glendinning placed on 7-day injured list. OF Bralin Jackson activated from 7-day injured list.

8/11: C Francisco Cervelli begins MLB Rehab Assignment. RHP Clay Holmes ends MLB Rehab Assignment. RHP Cody Ponce promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. LHP Cam Vieaux assigned to Altoona.

THE RESULTS/SCHEDULE

Altoona went 4-3 over its recent home stand to push its record t0 23-28 for the second half of the season and 59-60 overall.

With 21 games remaining, the Curve head to Harrisburg for a three-game set before returning home for the rest of the week to face Bowie. Altoona currently sits 13 games out of first place.

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Zebug
Zebug

And right on time.. Cruz goes 4 for 5 last night with a triple (and 2 errors… Debbie Downer I know lol)

mdoublea
mdoublea

Why isn’t Mason Martin playing in Altoona? He played with Cruz in Bradenton and hit better than Cruz
Martin hit his 30th home run on Sunday, the first Buc farmhand to hit that many since Andrew Lambo in 2013.
Martin is only 20, extremely rare for a player that young with that kind of power.
If he were in the Atlanta system, he would be on their big-league team by 21. The incompetent Pirates never bring up a guy before age 22, at least not in the last 20 years.
Cutch was almost 23 when he finally made the Pirates.
Just more evidence of a cheap-skate organization.

Zebug
Zebug

Tons of strike outs by Martin. Compare him to the young players the Braves brought up and you will quickly see he’s not those guys. I think most of the problem with the Pirates not bringing guys up as quick as other teams is because they don’t even have the guys worthy for a speedy rise to the big leagues.

mdoublea
mdoublea

Martin strikes out a lot, but he also walks a ton so his on-base is always well above .350 and OPS above .850 at every level he has played so far. He’s the prototypical player of the way the game is played. Baez came up young and even today, he strikes out a ton and no one ever says he stinks. Acuna has K’d 136 times and Albies 85 so your point about the young Braves hitters is not valid. As far as hitting goes, Martin is one of THOSE guys.

I am not saying Martin should be in next year’s Pirates opening day lineup, but he should be playing in Altoona by now and with Indy by May of next season to see how he progresses.
The BUCS are dying for legit power hitters.

Zebug
Zebug

Totally with you on Martin should be in AA now, my mistake for not making that clear.

Good point in Acuna, I didn’t realize his high A ball k rate was so high yet they still promoted him. Now he cut that down dramatically in AA and AAA but at the same level…Acuna was a big K guy just like Martin.

Martin has cut down his K rate this year, maybe he can cut it down even more from mid 30% k rate to mid/lower 20s like Acuna and BOOM, we have the next All-star. Think we can borrow Atlanta’s minor league coaches for spell? lol

Good stuff mdoublea

mdoublea
mdoublea

Thank you Zebug.
Because the Pirates have played so poorly the last 5 weeks, I have been looking more closely than usual at the prospects and Martin jumped off the page immediately.
Why is he only their 19th highest rated prospect?
He spent the first two months of this season as a 19-year-old
so for him to hit 30 home runs at such a young age (55 in his short career, 911 ABs, 1094 plate appearances, 148 BBs, 14 HBP), that’s EXTREMELY rare in baseball. Most guys in the minors with that many homers are 24-25-26.
Also, the Pirates have a barely 17 year old in the Dominican League (Mojica) with an 1.100 OPS (8 HR, 14 2B, 33 BB in 203 AB). Keep an eye on him next year in A ball.

Zebug
Zebug

oh I’ve been watching Mojica too, holy moly. Did he just turn 17? I thought he was still 16 (and yep, August 2nd, happy bday)…dude is a man amongst actual men lol. Have you seen his youtube video of when he was only 12 or 13 (supposedly…not sure I believe it).

WilliamMaloni
WilliamMaloni

Um, BN and $$$$$, which is the answer to so many PBC questions.

NC-BOB
NC-BOB

I see him as a future RF – Polanco’s eventual replacement…

Benny2016
Benny2016

Very helpful adding the ages of the players, it’s better to see who are the journeymen and who are the real prospects

DJ
DJ

“No matter what team I play for there, it’s going to be the same. It’s baseball.”

Obviously hasn’t been exposed to the Pirates organization long enough yet. He’ll learn.

JL
JL

He’d probably be a September call up this year if he was developing in a legit system

Paul
Paul

Not many teams call up 20-year-old AA players who are hitting .239. He’s a good prospect, but he’s not ready for a September call up.