Pirates’ Oneil Cruz has unlimited potential. His upside: Baseball Giannis #news

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By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

You by no means disregard the primary time you notice Oneil Cruz in individual.

Obviously, you might be ready to peer any person tall. But seeing a baseball participant constructed like post-stretch Mike Teevee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dressed in baseball pants in a dugout, and no longer sprinting down an NBA courtroom, is extremely jarring. The Pirates rookie shortstop is not only tall; he is lengthy, with levers that reach on ceaselessly like Mrs. Incredible’s.

“I remember seeing him in Spring Training of ‘21 and thinking: ‘wow, that’s a tall pitcher,” Pirates reliever Chase De Jong instructed FOX Sports. “He didn’t show up for stretching and I was like ‘where’d that lightning rod of a guy go?’ Then someone told me he was a shortstop and I heard him taking BP and was immediately like ‘wow.”

“The first time I saw him in person was Spring Training 2020,” Pirates supervisor Derek Shelton instructed FOX Sports. “He walks onto the field and Jarrod Dyson yells ‘what is Kevin Durant doing here?'”

At an impressive 6-foot-7, Cruz is already the tallest on a regular basis shortstop in baseball historical past. Had he been born in The Bronx or Paris or Buenos Aires, Cruz can be a small ahead at the Toronto Raptors or the like. But by means of the ability of circumstance, the 23-year-old skyscraper from Nizao within the Dominican Republic performs baseball.

And he is rattling just right at it.

“One thing that we’ve learned about basketball players,” Shelton defined. “As long as their arms are, if you ever watch them come out and hit BP, it’s never, ever smooth. And with Oneil, it’s always been smooth.”

On Sunday at Citi Field, he zinged a 99 mph heater from Best Pitcher On Earth™ Jacob deGrom for a game-tying three-run bomb, leaving the two-time Cy Young winner mouth in utter disbelief at the mound. The week prior, additionally in opposition to the Mets, he introduced a 113 mph, 422-foot torpedo blast into the Allegheny River off reliever Tommy Hunter. Earlier this season he smacked two dingers off ultimate 12 months’s NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and one by contrast 12 months’s most likely winner Sandy Alcantara.

Since his MLB call-up in past due June, the phenom prophetically named after Paul O’Neill has tantalized teammates, warring parties and fanatics together with his immense uncooked ability. Many declare that Cruz may well be the only maximum naturally talented baseball participant ever. 

Back in July, he uncorked a 97.8 mph toss from shortstop to first base, the toughest throw ever recorded by means of an infielder. 

And on Aug. twenty fourth in opposition to Atlanta’s Kyle Wright, Cruz broke Giancarlo Stanton’s checklist for the hardest-hit baseball within the Statcast technology (and most likely ever) by means of smashing a 122.4 mph laser beam off the right-field wall at PNC Park.

He’s in some way additionally the eleventh quickest participant in baseball. Cruz is a bodily specimen, a unicorn not like the rest we’ve got ever observed on this game, a person able to jaw-dropping feats on a nightly foundation. That herbal skill wishes some curating, indubitably, however in time, Cruz may just rather well evolve into the sport’s maximum impressive and maximum dominant participant. 

Basically, he is Baseball Giannis.

For the ones first few years in Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo was once an green supernova of doable who understandably struggled with a few of basketball’s finer issues. Through hard-work, just right training, maturation and persistence the Greek Freak has blossomed into the NBA’s maximum electrifying determine.

Cruz hopes to do the similar.

“That’s a great compliment.” Cruz instructed FOX Sports via a translator after listening to that comparability, his face lighting fixtures up with a huge grin stretching from ear to ear. “That guy is the absolute animal of basketball.” 

Admittedly, the younger shortstop has somewhat far to move sooner than even sniffing Giannis’ stage of luck. On Monday evening, Cruz surpassed Joey Gallo for the perfect strikeout charge in all of MLB (38.79% to 38.77%). He has whiffed an outrageous 116 instances in his 299 plate appearances this 12 months. The track-record for strikeout-prone learners isn’t large.

Of the nineteen different first-year hitters within the Wild Card technology to publish a Ok charge over 35% (minimal 200 PA), simplest 3 have transform unequivocal successes (Austin Riley, Byron Buxton and Javier Báez). The relaxation both puttered out (Tyler Austin, Mike Olt, Evan White) or nestled into careers as succesful however unreliable position gamers (Jorge Alfaro, Keon Broxton, Miguel Sano).

Yet in spite of his astronomical Ok charge, Cruz has nonetheless been an above-average hitter this season. As of Tuesday morning, he has 17 house runs and a 102 OPS+ in the ones 299 plate appearances. And so far in September, 42% strikeout charge be damned, he is been one of the vital league’s perfect hitters, to the track of a .961 OPS.

“It sounds elementary, but I think this year he’s learned that swinging at strikes is really important.” Shelton stated. “In the minors, he could extend those long arms and put everything in play. Here you can’t do that. But if he swings and makes contact with a strike, it’s going to fly off the bat.”

Cruz’s skill to easily cling his head above water in opposition to big-league pitching this season is little short of a triumph taking into consideration he is nonetheless studying the way to make the most of his distinctive body. When the Dodgers signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in the summertime of 2015, he was once simplest 6-foot-1. But he simply stored rising.

“I had to get new clothes right away.” Cruz recalls. “There was a point where I was averaging, like, an inch or two per year. My family just ended up buying me a lot of clothes that were way too big because they knew I would continue to grow and eventually grow into them. They were right.”

When he debuted for Los Angeles within the Dominican Summer League in 2016, Cruz was once round 6-foot-4. A 12 months later, when he was once traded to Pittsburgh for reliever Tony Watson, he stood two inches taller. Now he is 6-foot-7, pushing 6-foot-8. And whilst he is most probably achieved inching in opposition to the heavens, getting relaxed together with his peak and period is a an important a part of Cruz’s construction as a hitter.

Mets reliever Tommy Hunter, who gave up that river-bound scud-missile blast to Cruz previous this month, echoed that very same sentiment when requested concerning the Pittsburgh slugger.

“It’s scary. He’s only 23 and still coming into his own. As big as he is, as long as he is, the amount of torque he’s able to create, it’s just so, so explosive. That’s a special talent.”

And that house run?

“I needed a neck brace or some muscle relaxers, how freakin’ quick I had to turn my head to watch it go.” Hunter joked.

When requested about his improbable herbal talents, Cruz is understandably coy, fast to deflect consideration off himself and in opposition to what his accomplishments imply for the group. He claims he does not harp on his new go out pace checklist both as a result of “there’s so much good talent coming up that you just know that there’s always gonna be someone doing something bigger and better.” His number one purpose, he says, is to assist the once-great Pittsburgh franchise go back to postseason glory.

But modesty simplest is going to this point when you’ll hit a baseball tougher than any one else within the historical past of humanity. Cruz’s abilities and spotlight reels talk for themselves. His burgeoning superstardom was once on show at Citi Field ultimate week, with younger fanatics clamoring for autographs and images with the towering ballplayer just a few years their senior.

The hole between what Oneil Cruz lately is and what Oneil Cruz would possibly at some point transform is greater than that of every other massive leaguer. Traversing that canyon takes time and persistence, give a boost to and initiative, agree with and self-belief. It’s a chasm of construction that Cruz has journeyed sooner than; the space between 16 12 months outdated Oneil and present Oneil was once perhaps much more huge.

There’s a tight probability Cruz by no means reaches his complete doable and settles right into a profession as an offensively risky spotlight system. But if he comes any place shut, Cruz will transform the kind of participant you purchase tickets to move see. The form of participant you inform your grandkids you were given to peer in individual. The form of participant whose miraculous carrying exploits dot the entrance pages of internet sites around the nation.

Baseball’s resolution to Giannis.

Jake Mintz, the louder part of @CespedesBBQ, is a baseball author for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan residing in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely life maximum Octobers. If he’s no longer gazing baseball, he’s nearly no doubt driving his motorbike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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