Oneil Cruz Should Be on the Opening Day Roster, No Questions Asked

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates Twitter account


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This season won't be about contention for the Pirates. Far from it, most likely. Instead, the future will begin arriving to PNC Park this spring and summer to give fans a glimpse into what could be in Pittsburgh just a few seasons from now.

Everything that General Manager Ben Cherington has done will eventually have to culminate into more than just another stud prospect being traded for or drafted to the organization. Said prospect will have to come to Pittsburgh and actually be a meaningful piece instead of yet another flameout.

In the final series of 2021, both Roansy Contreras and Oneil Cruz were given a nice cup of coffee in the majors.

All Contreras did was toss three scoreless innings before being lifted to preserve his arm. He wasn't here to go seven innings and dominate the entirety of the game even though it looked like he could. Instead, it was a reward for all his hard work in a trying  minor league season that saw him strain his forearm.

Cruz, the oft-discussed 6'7" shortstop, played in two games and hit a mammoth home run along with one of the hardest hit singles of the entire season. All of this after five (!) home runs in six games at Triple-A Indianapolis and a .524 batting average prior to his call-up. Let's not forget about his 17 home runs in 271 at-bats in Double-A Altoona. No big deal.

If the Pirates would like to send Contreras back to Triple-A for a little more seasoning, that's fine. They have a handful of pitchers prepared to battle for a starting spot in 2022. He'll undoubtedly be in the majors by summer when an injury, underperformance, or trade occurs. Pitchers are different. Let him feel 100% confident in his stuff.

Cruz? He's already seen enough pitching to be successful at this level. He's a natural born hitter that will have to prove he can stick at shortstop but he has the potential to be one of the best power hitters in the entire league.

It should be Cruz at shortstop on Opening Day, not Kevin Newman. No offense to Newman, but nothing will move the needle more for me, or any Pirates fan, than seeing a top prospect break camp with the club rather than waiting until mid-summer to see them.  Cruz is 23. It's time to let him play in at the Major League level right now, and be a cog in the middle of the Pirates' lineup.

Ke'Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and Oneil Cruz in the top-three or four of the lineup is scary. There might not be a ton of threats behind them, but at least we would get a glimpse of what could be if the Pirates do the right thing and get everyone extended that needs to be extended.

Watching Cruz take some slugs at the baseball and try to bomb one into the Allegheny River? Sign me up from day one.

Just check out this beautiful 8-iron from Cruz on Saturday during the Pirates Spring Training victory. If he can get this low at his height and send a ball to the cheap seats, why shouldn't he play in Pittsburgh from Opening Day?

Marvelous.

What good is it going to do Cruz to head back to Triple-A? The pitching disparity between Triple-A and the big leagues isn't the same as it used to be 10-15 years ago. He proved he can hit long balls in both leagues.

Cruz enters the season as a top-15 prospect in both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus but 26th in MLB.com's rankings. I think I'm going to side closer to the first two publications' rankings.  The sooner Cruz comes to the majors, the sooner he can really get comfortable and be a key cog in a few years when the Pirates are preparing to compete for the postseason. Heck, maybe Cruz gets hot enough that he carries the Buccos clear through to the World Series title this season, sweeping the Dodgers along the way.

Yeah, I'm kidding. But I'm not kidding about Oneil Cruz.

Forget Triple-A. It's time to start his clock and get Cruz to PNC Park on a full-time basis. Pirates fans deserve a reason to care about the team this year and Cruz being added to a lineup with Reynolds and Hayes is certainly a reason to care.

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