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Monday, December 5, 2022

Omar Cruz: Changeup Lets Fastball Play Up Despite Low Velocity

When the Pittsburgh Pirates announced their minor league rosters for the 2022 season, one of the things that stuck out the most was just how deep the Altoona Curve pitching staff was going to be.

It was deep enough that even with Quinn Priester starting the year on the injured list, a previous starter was going to be moved to the bullpen.

Originally that person was lefty Omar Cruz, who piggybacked off the starter to begin the year, but really responded to coming out of the bullpen.

In his first four games as a reliever, Cruz struck out 20 batters in 12.1 innings, also posting a 1.46 ERA. They slid him into the rotation for his next five games and he really struggled (7.06 ERA, .906 opposing OPS). He had an 18% swinging strike mark out of the bullpen, which dropped slightly to 15% when he was moved back to the rotation.

He was moved back to the bullpen after those starts, but struggled over his next eight outings before going on the IL with an injury. 

After missing close to two months, Cruz returned and looked much closer to the beginning of the season, even though his swinging strike rate was half of what it was to begin the year (9% down from 18% his first four outings). He closed out the season with a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings, striking out 12 and walking five in that span, and holding the opposition to a .625 OPS.

Some players just play better as a reliever. They can let their stuff go a little bit more as opposed to being a little more conservative to ensure they can go deeper into games.

While Cruz doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff, the bullpen seemed to suit him better thanks to his secondary offerings.

The lefty features one of the best changeups in the system, and he pairs it with his fastball and a big loopy curveball.

With the changeup being his best pitch, that allows the fastball to play up a little more than it usually would while it sits in the high 80s/low 90s. He also does a good job locating the pitch around the strike zone.

The first video is a quick clip of him throwing just his fastball, and as you can see he isn’t afraid to throw in on either lefties or righties. The second game shown he worked away most of the time, but can really throw anywhere in the strike zone, no matter what side of the plate the hitter stands.

Cruz’s fastball really works as his secondary pitch, using it off of both his other pitches. When he’s pitching well, he starts hitters off with a changeup, which leads into the fastball. He has enough control over his curveball to also lead with that pitch. When he’s throwing the breaking ball for strikes, it allows him to throw the fastball up in the zone.

Here’s a couple of batters Cruz faced where he primarily focused on pairing the fastball with his curve. The first hitter he faced, three of the five pitches were curveballs. He starting the at-bat off with a breaking ball in for a ball before getting the hitter to foul off a couple of fastballs middle in on the plate. Cruz nearly paints the corner for a called strike three with a curve, before coming right back with the same pitch a little more in to get a swing and miss.

The second clip, Cruz throws five straight curveballs that broke down and into the zone before finishing off the hitter with a fastball up.

The final look comes with Cruz pairing the fastball with the changeup, again using the off speed pitch as his lead pitch to jump ahead in the count and as a put away pitch. In the first clip, Cruz misses with a changeup high, before getting three straight swing and misses off of pitches low and away, starting with the fastball before going back to the offspeed.

Cruz then follows that up by throwing a fastball in for a called strike immediately, before using the changeup away for a swing and miss. He gets the punch out with a curve, but it was all set up previously in the at-bat. The last two clips focus on Cruz never really letting the hitter get comfortable by constantly changing speeds. He even gets the last hitter to go down to one knee as he misses with a pitch that would make ‘Pitching Ninja’ proud.

His value gets hurt by not being able to remain in the rotation, and the low velocity will likely limit the kind of role he takes on in the bullpen, but Cruz has shown the ability to keep hitters guessing by using his secondary pitches to make his fastball play up more.

After spending nearly the last two years with Altoona, he will get a chance to pitch in the Arizona Fall League against some of the best prospects in baseball. It will be a good opportunity to see just how well his stuff plays despite the velocity. The Pirates don’t have many lefty throwing major league caliber arms in the upper levels of the minors, so Cruz taking a step forward in the AFL would be huge for a bullpen that really struggled in 2022 down the stretch.

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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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Catch_22

Best case scenario Dillion Peters?

mpg43952

That’s one jittery windup. Make a batter nervous as a cat.

mpg43952

When the public knows your windup, you’re on your way!

PirateRican21

How are his splits? Can he be a left on left only reliever? If not I don’t see an easy path for him.

PirateRican21

That’s why I asked, I figured he was better against RH, but he’s not showing a huge split. Wish him all the best!

Last edited 1 month ago by PirateRican21

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