When the Pittsburgh Pirates summoned top candidate Oneil Cruz this week, those trying to explain the excitement around him had to reach out to other realms for comparison. Baseball’s Giannis Antitokoumbo. The height of Aaron Judge at the speed of Tyreek Hill.
Anyone who was really convinced to activate the Pirates game needed no further proportions. The thrill of Cruz’s potential was all there, a clear visual stimulus.
You see, Cruz is 6 feet tall and playing shortstop. And he is not an innovative player or a marginal player with a cool idiosyncrasy. By Tuesday, when Pittsburgh finally ended its highly disliked service-time manipulation campaign, it was one of the most exciting players left in the minor leagues. Coming into the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the No. 12 contender in the sport.
In his first game of 2022 (making his MLB debut in late 2021), Cruz threw the ball harder than any MLB player so far this season, ran faster than any pirate this season and hit the ball louder than any pirate has this season.
Just starting a game, Cruz became the tallest arm in MLB history. And he needed these mold-destroying skills, which defy the comparison so seldom mixed in one body, to overturn the dominant question from “Why?” in “Why not?”
But where it was once strong to believe that Cruz would stay long enough to smell the adults, he could quickly evolve from an anomaly to a trendsetter. If he stays in one of the most demanding and historic places in baseball, his arrival could be a milestone for the unicorns who conquer the trophies of position and the prejudices of another sport.
Oneil Cruz is the tallest near the MLB … by a mile
Being 6-foot-7 and playing shortstop is completely unheard of.
Only six players 5 feet tall or older, including Cruz, have ever appeared in an MLB shortstop for any length of time. Only two have played up to 10 games in a season there – Archi Cianfrocco, who played mostly in the first base for the San Diego Padres in the 1990s, and Mike Morse, who appeared short but quickly left in the outfield.
The tallest players to make a real career in the six hole were in the range of 6 feet-4. This top breed of shorts started with Cal Ripken Jr. and has multiplied slightly in recent years with Corey Seager and Carlos Correa. Cruz, who is reported at 220 pounds, has a slim, stocky body closer to Fernando Tatis Jr., who is 6 feet tall.
When Cruz was even younger and even more gangster, Baseball Newsletter author Jarrett Seidler was on the scout team trying to predict his future. It was hard to understand what it would look like in the big companies.
“It’s worth noting that Cruz will not only be the biggest regular arm in MLB history, but he will be the biggest by a wide margin,” Seidler said this week. “There has never been a normal posture mentioned above 6 feet-4. Cruz is each piece 6 feet 7, which is the same height as Aaron Judge, and three inches taller than the Seager, Tatis and Correa. So this is completely uncharted water. “
Back in 2018, Seidler was positive about Cruz’s chances of getting a quick job at the big big companies, in part because he showed such a reliable glove and dynamic hand.
“The industry’s expectation when he was on the A-ball was that Cruz would lose significant range as he continued to grow and was indeed 45 pounds heavier than when he signed,” said Seidler. “But he completed without losing any remarkable range or agility.”
Moving him away means finding a new place. This, as Seidler points out, is not a walk in the park.
Being so tall and playing * any * position other than the pitcher, first baseman or designated player would count as history, but what is particularly striking is the lack of tall players who have made careers in critical positions in the middle. diamond: catcher, second base, shortstop and center field. Only 18 players 6 feet or taller have managed even 100 career games in these positions since 1920.
It is noteworthy that out of these 18, five are active and another two played the previous two seasons.
Even Jazz has increased his time in the most difficult position in the center of the field, playing 31 games that was the peak of his career this season as he progresses to the AL MVP game.
Part of the calculation there, as Seidler points out, stems from advances in defensive placement that help teams cover more of the field with fewer stellar defenders. It allows them to maintain the flexibility of the roster and improve their lineups offensively.
The teams have every incentive to play a potentially great striker like Cruz in the most difficult defensive position he can manage. Especially at this time – since the experiments in the minor leagues did not go well – this is a short point for Cruz.
“If he’s a middle or middle arm, but worse in third or outfield,” Seidler said, “it might make sense to leave him in the shortstop even if he’s not ideal for sacrificing shortstop defense.”
Because Oneil Cruz may not be extreme for long
Perhaps no sport has rejected more rigid position labels than basketball. While John deserves more than the nickname “Greek Freak”, he is not the only NBA star skyscraper who can handle the ball and wander around the perimeter with all the fluidity of what we called the point guard.
Placeless basketball does not fit perfectly into the world of baseball. Positions do not dictate matches or instantaneous immediate benefits in baseball, but the requirements of certain points have limited pools of talent for generations.
Just as basketball has dealt with most position stereotypes and football has slowly embraced some less conventional generals, baseball comes at a time when the last hurdles – around premium positions – could be broken.
This is already a sport where Judge and Jose Altuve can compete for an MVP award. It could soon be a sport where they can compete for the prize and play the same position.
Many modern stars have overcome questions about their ability to stick. But Cruz is a different proposition precisely because he cuts such an impressive figure. Minor League ball tracking numbers per Seidler show that he is capable of hitting the ball harder than any current champion except Giancarlo Stanton. He was not square enough yet to reach all this power consistently, but the potential is there.
Another player with comparable measurements is currently climbing through the Cincinnati Reds – Elly De La Cruz. A 6-foot limb at just 20 years old, De La Cruz has many of snapshots of the minor league looks like Oneil Cruz.
Seidler calls De La Cruz one of his favorite prospects and says he is faster on the pitch, but less confident than his taller predecessor. The Reds have tested him in third and second base so far, but he still plays most of his shortstop games.
If you want more dynamic diversity like John all over the pitch, make it even harder for Cruz to keep his own. It is, after all, the first real case study of future horrors for De La Cruz.
“It certainly will not hurt his chances,” Seidler said, “if Cruz can be successful.”