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

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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jon6er

Jack says hold my beer y’all!

skliesen

His odds aren’t 0.0%, but it might as well be. No way he’s able to overcome coming up this late in the year and playing for a losing team, no matter how many prodigious blasts he hits this summer.

To me ROY is irrelevant. I am much more concerned with how much the Pirates offense improves going forward with him in the lineup. To date, Pirates have averaged 3.4 runs/game (221 runs scored in 65 games). Let’s see how much, if any, Pirates offense improves over last 97 games and judge his contributions accordingly.

roibert.kasperski

Well Oneil has a Jack to beat out first.

piratemike

I took the handle “piratemike” without much thought, it should have been “pirateskeptic”.
The Pirates will; have to change their whole history of failure before I can become an optimist about any player or thing that they do although I really hope that they do make me that optimist.
it makes for good reading to read the thoughts of people who are more qualified than I
but they also hedge their thoughts because there is always a Greg Polanco in the past.

roberto

Since every team (including the Dodgers and Yankees) have had initially successful players fail, this is just a part of the game. Baseball is hard.

Arrowreb

How about his Hall of Fame chances?

anybody want to talk instead about the organizations awful player development system from top to bottom? We have all these prospects, but pretty much all I see is a lack of walks, tons of strikeouts, low batting averages, short pitching outings, lack of progress. Yes there are exceptions. I think someone needs to be a examining coach Baker and the development side. We’re going backwards

roberto

HOF talk is weird, you are right. But my review of MiLB stats says to me that the Bucs’ system is doing well. Perhaps you could explain a bit more fully?

Arrowreb

I pay pretty close attention to the number of walks and strikeouts racked up for each teams batters every day. I know this is indicative of baseball in general from top to bottom everywhere, but I guess I’m old-school. I would rather see better bat control, learning how to hit the opposite way to beat the shifts, etc… I realize that will probably mean less home runs, but this organization is not built for power for the most part. I hate the 3 outcome game we have today (walks, strikeouts or home runs).

As for the pitchers, I think we tend to “baby” the pitchers arms. By now the starters ought to throwing 90 pitches per outing…unless coming off major injury. By the time they make it to the major leagues, they can’t go deep into games, or are not allowed to go deep. Next thing you know the pitchers real “maturity” doesn’t kick in until year 3-5 in the majors…time to be traded because their salary is getting too high!

oh well, I’m 60 years old….quite possibly I’m just too “old school”.😋

RAS TN

How about MVP???

jaygray007

Disclaimer: I dont expect WAR to be the biggest factor in ROY voting, but it should be a decent enough proxy for our purposes

Just to put actual numbers to this, the current NL Rookie WAR leaderboard includes the following:

B Donovan, 1.4 fWAR
Strider, 1.3
Gore, 1.1
Harris III, 1.1
L Gonzalez, 1.0
A Thomas, 0.9
Suwinski, .9
Morel, 0.8

We have approx 60% of a season remaining. We can say that Cruz will light the world on fire and produce at a 5 WAR per season pace. That puts him at 3 WAR to end the season. Gotta think the current guys at the top of the leaderboard can all pop 2+ WAR.

That said, i hope Cruz does it.

roberto

Thanks for the notes of realism and optimism. Also thanks for using data to make your case.

sherwjohn

Cruz was hitting in the .230s with a decent amount of errors at AAA. A 5 WAR pace the rest of the way is so incredibly unlikely given that he is likely a replacement-level defender now at best and has never shown himself to be a guy that hits for a high average. Anything is possible with a small sample size, but that 5 WAR pace has to be <0.1% chance. The best comparison for that is Aristedes Aquino’s 2019 season where he played 56 games and raked at a 4 WAR pace.

zebug

Citing his year long average is misguided. For the last two months he’s been MUCH better with an OPS over .800, if he were to continue that pace through the rest of the season then he’s got a chance. But I totally agree with Wilbur, he’s struggled early with each promotion and I presume he’ll do the same here, so another slow start would derail anything.

sherwjohn

I probably should not have mentioned batting average since it is not all that relevant as a stat. His OBP for the year is OBP is ,336 which is in line with his .341 career average. These are not bad, but coupled with his current defensive limitations give him a couple of barriers to reaching a 5 WAR for the end of the year. He could hit for a ton of power the next three months and still be challenged to hit even a 4 WAR pace (the Aquino reference).

roberto

Imagine a SS with D issues and strengths plus enormous power. You may say I’m a dreamer . . .

jaygray007

5 WAR pace was purposefully optimistic/aggressive, in order to make the point that he’s unlikely to enter the ROY race. It certainly COULD happen tho. Just not the likely outcome.

Also, i dont think you should care especially much about his .230 batting average. Alternatively, Oneil Cruz’s AAA performance can also be described as follows:

September 2021: .524
April 2022: .176
May 2022: .256
June 2022: .277

Even putting aside that BA is nearly obsolete as a stat to use to evaluate players, that’s three out of 4 months with significantly better results than .230. I think it’s pretty clear that there was just something wonky going on in April.

Last edited 8 days ago by jaygray007
roberto

There you go again: using data to support your argument.

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