New Hitting Approach Benefits Oneil Cruz

The Pirates viewed shortstop Oneil Cruz as the jewel of last year’s deadline deal that sent reliever Tony Watson to the Dodgers. In the 6-foot-6 Cruz, they saw enough raw power and arm strength to feel better about giving away their one-time all-star closer.

“Raw” is still the operative word, however. The 19-year-old Cruz has hit tape-measure home runs for low Class A West Virginia, but he also had struck out 26 percent of the time.

Regardless, Cruz looked like a much more complete hitter in his first year in the Pirates’ organization. He hit .283/.350/.500 with seven homers through 49 games. That represented marked improvement over his 2017 batting line of .237/.297/.350.

“The difference between this year and last year is now he actually has an approach,” farm director Larry Broadway said. ”Last year, it was really just grip it and rip it.

“Now he’s going up there with a much better plan. He knows what he’s looking for in certain counts and he’s developed a two-strike approach. He’s really shown a lot more maturity as a hitter. He’s chasing a lot less—and it hasn’t cost him anything in terms of power.”

Cruz, who signed with the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, still has work to do defensively. After playing mostly third base last season, he has played shortstop this year, and that has been an adventure. He had racked up 18 errors with a sub-.900 fielding percentage by June 1. 

“He’s shown flashes of being a really good defender, and he’s shown some defensive immaturity,” Broadway said. “He is a long-levered guy, and it’s sometimes difficult for a guy like that to stay in control.

“He’s actually really good on range plays when he has to go far to his right or far to his left. He can go open up and make a play. It’s actually the closer plays that he has a harder time with because he has to chop his feet a little bit and get under control, and that’s actually been kind of difficult for him.”

Cruz has plenty of time to grow into his body. 

“The next step for him is just to keep building on what he’s doing at the plate,” Broadway said, “and just get better at making the routine play.”

>> Though Gerrit Cole has been spectacular for the Astros, the Pirates have seen impressive production from the three major leaguers they gained in the deal: Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz. The prospect they gained, outfielder Jason Martin, had been just as good. Through 47 games at Double-A Altoona he hit .316/.379/.531 with seven home runs.

>> West Virginia righthander Travis MacGregor, the 2016 second-rounder out of high school, went on the disabled list in mid-may after a promising start that included a 3.10 ERA through seven starts and a strikeout rate of 13.3 per nine innings. He had sharpened his control by issuing just 2.2 walks per nine. “It’s another case of a guy with really long levers,” Broadway said. “Sometimes it takes a while for those guys to sync up.”

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