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Oneil Cruz

From BR Bullpen

Oneil Cruz.jpg

Oneil Cruz

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 7", Weight 210 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Infielder Oneil Cruz was considered the third-ranked prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization when he was involved in a car crash that caused the death of three persons in 2020.

He was originally signed as an international free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 2, 2015 and began his pro career the next season with the DSL Dodgers 1 where he hit .294 in 55 games. In 2017, he moved stateside with the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League and as an 18-year-old in full-season ball hit .240 in 89 games. On July 31st, he was one of two minor leaguers traded to the Pirates for reliever Tony Watson, the other being reliever Angel German, and he finished the season in the South Atlantic League, with the West Virginia Power, where he hit .218 in 16 games. In 2018, he had a break-out season for West Virginia, hitting .286/.343/.488 in 103 games, with 25 doubles, 7 triples and 14 homers. he was a post-season All-Star and named the league's Most Outstanding Major League Prospect after the season.

In 2019, Cruz played at three different levels, including a short rehabilitation assignment with the GCL Pirates after fracturing his right foot at the end of April. He hit .301 in 35 games for the Bradenton Marauders, then as assigned to the AA Altoona Curve at the end of July where he played another 35 games, hitting .269. Altogether, in 73 games, his batting line was ..298/.356/.475 with 8 homers and 34 RBIs. He was named a Pirates organizational All-Star by MiLB.com, after having been the Florida State League Player of the Month in July. The future looked very bright, and in 2020, he was one of the minor league prospects added to the Pirates' 60-player pool, spending the year at their alternate training site in Altoona. When the camp was wound down in early September, he returned to his native Dominican Republic and in the early hours of September 21st, was involved in a tragic vehicular accident when he was driving his Jeep on a highway near the town of Bani, Peravia, and hit a motorcycle carrying three persons, killing all three. The motorcycle was traveling without lights, while Cruz, who was not injured, was suspected to have been under the influence. Both vehicles were breaking a curfew imposed by authorities because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Cruz was arrested at the scene and faced significant prison time if convicted of impaired driving, but he was cleared of charges. He vehemently denied having been under the influence, and it was confirmed that he was the one who had called for emergency assistance after the accident. He also had an explanation for why he was breaking curfew, which was that he was taking his ailing child to a hospital, while his wife, who was pregnant at the time, was home sick. In the end he was not charged with any offense, as the crash was determined to be a tragic accident, and he was able to play in winter ball.

He made his major league debut in the penultimate game of the 2021 season, on October 2nd, two days before his 23rd birthday. Against the Cincinnati Reds, he started at shortstop and batted 8th, going 2 for 5 with a run scored and 2 RBI in an 8-6 win. He then hit his first career homer in his only other game, finishing 3 for 9. He was the tallest man to start at shortstop in major league history. Before his late promotion, he had finished the minor league season on fire, belting a homer in five of his 6 games for the AAA Indianapolis Indians; he had previously played 62 games in AA with the Altoona Curve, after missing time with an elbow injury, finishing a combined .310/.375/.594 between the two stops, with 16 doubles, 5 homers and 17 RBIs. While there was some speculation he may start the 2022 season in the majors due to an amazing spring training, the Pirates sent him to Indianapolis for the first ten weeks (officially to work on certain areas that they refused to clarify). While he hit just .232 in 55 games, the result of hitting just .176 in April, he showed plenty of power with 7 doubles, 3 triples and 9 homers, scoring 40 runs and driving in 35. He was called up to Pittsburgh on June 19th, as the Pirates were steadily integrating their better prospects into their regular line-up. Joining him on the trip to the Steel City was another top Bucs prospect, OF Bligh Madris, who had yet to make his big league debut. He had a great debut, driving in 4 runs in a 12-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. He was the first Pirate to drive in runs in his first four games since Cookie Lavagetto in 1934! He then became the third player in MLB history to drive in runs in each of his first six games; the last to do so had been George Shuba 74 years prior. His 10 RBI were a record for a player in his first six major league games. On August 24th, he hit a single whose exit velocity was measured at 122.4 mph, the highest reading in the seven years since MLB introduced such measurements. It reached RF Ronald Acuna of the Atlanta Braves so quickly that he could not advance beyond first base. One month earlier, one of his throws from the infield had been timed at 97.8 mph - also the fastest ever recorded - as some observers dubbed him a "Statcast Superstar". On September 6th, he added another spectacular feat with a "splashdown homer", i.e. one that lands in the Allegheny River at PNC Park; it was hit off Tommy Hunter as part of a three-hit game in an 8-2 win over the New York Mets. He finished his rookie season at .233 in 87 games, with17 homers and 54 RBIs for an OPS+ of 107, although most observers felt that he had only just scratched the surface of his potential.

He was tabbed by just every observer as one of the young players to watch in all of baseball before the 2023 season, as everyone felt he was likely to take some big steps forward thanks to having a full season under his belt. He started off the year batting .250 with 1 homer through 9 games before disaster struck in a game against the Chicago White Sox on April 9th. He was at third base when Ke'Bryan Hayes hit a grounder to third baseman Yoan Moncada. Oneil broke for home but was thrown out while sliding late and awkwardly into catcher Seby Zavala. He landed on his left ankle, fracturing it and putting him out of action for a prolonged period. The violent collision caused the benches to clear, but no blows were exchanged and no one was ejected. That the Pirates won the game, 1-0, was of little consolation however, as he missed the remainder of the year while recovering from the injury.

On June 22, 2024, he became just the sixth player to hit a ball on the fly into the Allegheny River beyond the right field fence at PNC Park. Daryle Ward had been the first, followed by Garrett Jones (the first Pirates player to do so), Pedro Alvarez and Josh Bell, who had done it twice in the space of a month in 2019. Oneil's 1st-inning shot off Zach Eflin of the Tampa Bay Rays was measured at 445 feet.

At 6' 7", Cruz is much taller than the average shortstop - in fact there have hardly been any over 6' 4" in professional baseball history, but that was the position he played for most of his first four minor league seasons, because of his outstanding athleticism. He was viewed as a likely third baseman or outfielder in the longer term. He is named after Paul O'Neill, who was his father's favorite player. His father, Rafael Cruz, played three seasons in the minors, and his brother Homer Cruz has also played in the minors.

Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "How 2 swings show Oneil could be a star", mlb.com, March 22, 2022. [1]
  • Chris Bumbaca: "Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz under influence of alcohol in crash that killed three in Dominican Republic, per reports", USA Today, September 23, 2020. [2]
  • Jake Crouse: "Bucs prospect Cruz called up for MLB debut: 6-foot-7 shortstop becomes tallest to start at spot in AL/NL history", mlb.com, October 3, 2021. [3]
  • Jake Crouse: "Oneil Cruz crushes hardest-hit ball possibly ever", mlb.com, August 24, 2022. [4]
  • Jake Crouse: "From PiratesFest, Cruz proclaims himself 'all good. 100% now'", mlb.com, January 7, 2024. [5]
  • Justice delos Santos: "'Now's the time': Pirates calling up No. 3 prospect Oneil Cruz: Outfielder Bligh Madris is also getting the call, manager Derek Shelton confirms", mlb.com, June 19, 2022. [6]
  • Justice delos Santos: "Cruz HR reaches Allegheny, and he was surprised it took this long", mlb.com, September 6, 2022. [7]
  • Justice delos Santos: "Cruz's goal in 2023? A 30-30 season", mlb.com, February 18, 2023. [8]
  • Justice delos Santos: "Oneil fractures ankle on collision, benches clear around him: Santana, White Sox catcher Zavala exchange words after awkward crash at plate", mlb.com, April 9, 2023. [9]
  • Jason Mackey: "Authorities: Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz had alcohol in system at time of fatal crash", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 22, 2020. [10]

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