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Prospect Roundtable: What Are Oneil Cruz’s Chances in the Rookie of the Year Race?

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The Pittsburgh Pirates will call up Oneil Cruz today, finally giving their top prospect his shot in the majors.

At this point, Cruz is unlikely to reach Super Two, and would be under team control through the 2028 season. Major League Baseball added a new rule in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, giving a full year of service time to the players who finish top two in Rookie of the Year voting.

Obviously that’s a possibility for a prospect with an impact bat like Cruz.

To get an idea of how big of a possibility that could be, we all weighed in on Cruz’s chances in a special version of Prospect Roundtable.

JOHN DREKER

Cruz seems highly unlikely to finish in the top two of the Rookie of the Year voting mostly because there are only 97 games left in the season. He’s not going to be playing all 97 games either, so he’s starting in a big hole already. There are a large group of players, including his own teammates, who have a big jump on him. Assuming the Pirates stick with Jack Suwinski as a regular all year — he made a big mark on Sunday with three homers and overall his value has been positive. Roansy Contreras also has a chance, though I expect his innings to be limited in the second half due his age and to missing so much time last year, so he might not be able to put up big numbers this year. Cal Mitchell could get hot and make a run for it, as he was the best hitter on Indianapolis at the time of his call-up. There are regulars on other teams like Nolan Gorman, MacKenzie Gore, Luis Gonzalez and Seiya Suzuki (I’m sure I’m missing names) who have seen regular time this year with success. Cruz still has plenty of work to do before he’s a finished big league product, so I don’t expect him to just join the Pirates and dominate. It’s not exactly like he was crushing the ball at Indianapolis. He might get off to a good start, but there will be a streak in there where pitchers figure out his weakness and he will then have to adjust. He’s also not going to earn himself bonus points with defense, especially if he plays outfield occasionally. I don’t see him really competing for the award, but it will be interesting to see if he ends up as the best Pirates rookie this year.

WILBUR MILLER

Cruz will have a tough time getting serious ROY consideration due to his late arrival. The voters like those counting stats, so he won’t have any time to waste getting acclimated. Ideally, he’ll hit the ground running, but his history suggests that it won’t be that simple. He struggled a little when he first got to Double-A in 2019, and he struggled a lot in his first extended exposure to Triple-A this year. It’ll be a very welcome surprise if Cruz doesn’t face adjustment issues over the rest of this season. There’s also the matter of his defense, which may have an outsized impact on voters who can’t process the notion of a 6’7” shortstop. Cruz has been prone to defensive slumps; for example, shortly after he reached Double-A he had a stretch in which he made errors in six straight games. The ceiling is so high that, even starting almost halfway through the season, you can’t totally rule him out, but a top two finish is a long shot.

ANTHONY MURPHY

One of the biggest appeals with Cruz is the almost limitless upside he possesses. With his raw power and athletic ability, he can almost be as good as he wants to be. Jack Suwinski has really made a good case to be in the conversation, but there isn’t any one player that is standing out right now, so I absolutely believe Cruz has a shot at finishing in the top two of the Rookie of the Year voting. He has the hype, swagger, and plays a premium position that could help sway voters in his direction if things get close. It would take a lot of things going right, which would include coming out of the gate hot and not struggling. In previous years he probably has no shot coming up at this point and compete for the award, but this season might just be the year for someone to come out and do it. Cruz seems as capable as anyone who is coming up this late in the year to do it.

TIM WILLIAMS

I don’t know the situation with other teams and their top prospects, but I’m pretty sure that Oneil Cruz is the most significant prospect right now impacted by that Rookie of the Year stipulation. The Pirates called him up late enough for plenty of other players to get a good head start. The biggest appeal from Cruz is his power potential, and that’s his best shot to finishing top two in Rookie of the Year. His teammate, Jack Suwinski, has an 11 home run head start, hitting a homer every 13.5 at-bats. It will be difficult for Cruz to hit for a pace that would allow him to pass Suwinski, and that doesn’t include the numbers from every rookie on every other team. I think the most exciting thing here is that even with the clear logic that Cruz is starting at such a disadvantage, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t give him at least a chance. I don’t think his chance is strong, considering the starting point. However, we’re in a time of peak prospect hype for Cruz. This is the moment where all of our brains can find a way to believe in the seemingly impossible, latching onto all of the amazing things we project from Cruz. The fact that he could still challenge for that race from his starting point is a testament to his skill level.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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