Extra Defensive Work Pays Off For Oneil Cruz
Ten years ago, the Pirates acquired shortstop Argenis Diaz in a deal for Adam LaRoche. Diaz was a strong defender with a light bat who accrued just 36 big league plate appearances in a 2010 cup of coffee in Pittsburgh.
The last two years, Diaz has made a big contribution to the Pirates organization as an infield coach. A big focus for him during that time has been working with shortstop Oneil Cruz, who began this year at high Class A Bradenton and moved to Double-A Altoona on July 30.
At the plate, Cruz has the best raw power in the system and the potential to be an impact hitter. Defensively, the Pirates have been trying him at shortstop, despite him being 6-foot-6. His defensive skills have improved from last year, in large part due to the work with Diaz.
"I’ve got to give most of the credit to (Diaz),” Bradenton manager Wyatt Toregas said. "He played a long time in the infield and is just unbelievable when it comes to teaching Cruz how to do some things. On the skill side of it, it’s all Cruzy. He’s a big boy, but he’s really athletic and he can just really move.”
Cruz has been working daily with Diaz for the last two years, taking 20-25 grounders a day in extra work. The focus last year was improving routes and angles, and attacking the ball off the bat. This year’s focus has been on improving his throwing and locking in to every pitch.
"I’m a lot better this year, especially looking back to last year,” Cruz said through a translator. "I’m really focusing on my throws. Last year I was airmailing some and spiking some. This year I’m focusing more on controlling throws over to first.”
In 35 games in the Florida State League, Cruz batted .301/.345/.515 with seven home runs and seven stolen bases. He has the hitting skill to make the majors, and if the defensive work allows him to stick at shortstop, he’ll be providing a premium at a position that doesn’t typically see his offensive profile.
— The Pirates acquired righthander Tahnaj Thomas from the Indians in an offseason trade that sent Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to Cleveland. Thomas has been bringing extreme velocity at Rookie-level Bristol this season, topping 100 mph three times in a July start. He also had been showing better control.
— First baseman Mason Martin, a 17th-round pick in 2017 out of high school, had mashed 28 home runs through 102 games between low Class A Greensboro and Bradenton. He hit .260/.364/.574 and had improved his strikeout rate dramatically compared with last year.