Prospect Roundtable: How Long Can Oneil Cruz Play Shortstop?

We’ve covered Oneil Cruz a lot this week, looking both at his offense in Triple-A, and his defensive focus at shortstop and the outfield.

I also had a more explorative column, looking at what the shortstop position even is in today’s game.

Regardless of his position, Cruz will always have his value driven by the bat. The Pirates have been trying him at shortstop for a few years — an experiment that has carried over into the new front office. Now, Cruz is getting work in the outfield, which he doesn’t like.

The Pirates are still using Cruz primarily as a shortstop. When he arrives in the majors, it will probably be as a shortstop. The question is how long he can remain at the position.

That’s the question I asked the Pirates Prospects team this week in a bonus edition of Prospect Roundtable:

What do you think will eventually move Oneil Cruz off shortstop? How long do you think he can play the position in the majors?


I think the main reason that Cruz will eventually move off of shortstop is that Liover Peguero is a better defender and is looking more like a Major League player as he has reached the upper level and has shown in a small sample size that he belongs. While I’ve never been high on Cruz’s defense at shortstop, he appears to have taken a step back this year. I’ve seen Mason Martin save him at least three errors with outstanding plays, and the official scorer has been kind as well. In the past, his defense was serviceable enough that if the bat played up, you can overlook the defense. He’s not being blocked by anyone now, and his defense can’t do any harm to a team with 70-win dreams, but it would be best to get him off of the position now so he gets better wherever he ends up. If it’s the outfield, then we have recently seen that he’s going to need some major work there before he is ready.


This is a tough question to answer, because this team’s decisions about whom to play where have been completely random and devoid of any connection to players’ abilities. Based strictly on Cruz himself, I’d say he’d probably last 3-4 years at short. The error total is always going to be high, largely due to wild throws, but the potential in getting that bat at a premium position should outweigh the errors. Cruz is much more capable at the position that scouts thought he’d be, mainly because he’s an outstanding athlete with a cannon arm. When the early-20s quickness and reflexes start to decline, though, he’ll have to move. This isn’t a prediction, of course, because Cruz will be playing for a team with incoherent personnel strategies and you can’t predict incoherence. My guess is he’ll never get established at short because Derek Shelton will continue to insist on everybody playing everywhere except where they ought to be. At some point in the next two years, Liover Peguero will probably take over at short.


I think the biggest thing about Cruz is the accuracy of his throws. He’s been bailed out by Mason Martin a few times on some throws, and got some generous scoring on others that bailed him out of a few extra errors. I don’t discount his ability to stay there long-term, but it’s going to take constant work, and the Pirates will have to live with some routine plays getting booted at times. Due to his size and athleticism, Cruz also has the potential to make plays that no other shortstop can make, keeping just enough intrigue to keep him there. As far as how long he stays at the position, I could see a move to the outfield around the time if/when the team becomes competitive once again and can’t afford to live with the errors as much as they would be in their current phase of the rebuild.


As I wrote earlier this week, Oneil Cruz can play a serviceable shortstop at the big league level today. He will not be outstanding, but he will not fall on his face either. Errors will come and he will not have strong range. However, as Tim also wrote, the shift changes some of that requirement for a shortstop. One of the major concerns with Cruz at shortstop for me is how his body will change. We all know, he is very tall. We also know he has a lot of power. Getting even bigger, and also older, will only put more strain on everything needed in the middle infield. In order to remain an elite hitter, which is his biggest value, he will have to eventually move off short. I would put the clock on this, with him already being a few months away from 24, at three to four years until it takes a toll on him.


I was there for the beginning of this experiment. When Cruz arrived with the Pirates in 2017, he was a third baseman. I remember seeing him play in one of his early games, thinking that the only thing holding him back from the infield might be his height putting him further from ground balls. And then the Pirates decided to try him at shortstop. That experiment was met with immediate questioning, mostly due to his height. It’s similar to the concerns I had when he was at third base. Since the experiment started, Cruz has shown that he can handle the grounders, and can make some plays that other shortstops can’t. A lot of his errors this year have been on throws, which has nothing to do with height, though it could be a result of bad fundamentals from the entire process of fielding a grounder. Liover Peguero has a more common shortstop build and profile, which is why he gets projected into the role more often. However, Peguero also has been having error issues this year, with three more than Cruz at the moment. I don’t see any reason why Cruz should move off the shortstop position right now. I also think that Peguero should move him off the position eventually, though I think it’s unfair to Cruz to assume he will inevitably move due to his errors, while glossing over the errors from Peguero. I think that Peguero has more defensive potential, but I feel like Peguero gets graded on that potential, while Cruz gets graded on mistakes that would be overlooked for Peguero. Cruz will eventually move off the position as he fills out and gets slower, which probably gives him about 3-4 years as a starter at the position in the big leagues anyway. Eventually, he will need that outfield work.




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Arky Wags

Pre-draft stuff from BA: Orioles were apparently looking at Berry #1 overall underslot before he broke a finger. Clever by half, they are.

Bucs loosely connected to Collier; I think someone may have posted that a few days ago as well. Apparently I also read he may be on the Cape this summer?

Last edited 3 days ago by Arky Wags
Arky Wags

I think banning of the shift may accelerate bat-first shortstops move off the positions. And while I certainly don’t think that alone dictates a Cruz move to the OF, it feels like a factor.

The Cobra

When Cruz arrives (most likely next month) he should be take over SS for the remainder of the year and potentially all of next year. It sounds like he needs to put enough bad tape out there for it to be obvious he shouldn’t be at short, thus potentially making it easier for him mentally to move. It may seem like a bit of coddling, but with a guy with his offensive potential and such a major piece to any Pirate turnaround, it may be warranted in this case “Oneill Cruz – the man without a position.”


I doubt Cruz will ever say he can’t play ss, unless he came up here, and was so bad that he had to move. I think it is much more likely, he would except it if Peguero came along and was just much better at the position. As long as Cruz plays adequate ss, he will believe in his head he can play the position, regardless of what anyone tells him.


Honestly, this whole conversation is insane to me.

Why does nobody ever actually define what it means to “stay at SS”? What does that even mean?

Ryan Doumit “stayed at C” for ten years in spite of being truly awful at the position. Was that a good thing?

The question of if Cruz stays at the position is meaningless, what matters is how good he’ll actually be. Quality is what should determine whether or not he stays.

So there’s the question: how good do you all think he’ll actually be?

Arky Wags

If one actually listened to all scouting reports on minor leaguers, no one would play shortstop. Ever.

I don’t think Cruz will be great or even good at short. He won’t be E-Suarez bad, but I think he’ll be more in the…what’s the next rung down? Serviceable? A 2.0? Costanzian?

Since the team is going nowhere this year, I’m a fan of calling him up in the next few weeks and giving him a shot there for four months. Show us what you got. If, after that time, you’ve proved that you aren’t good enough, you’ll find some sweet sunshades in your locker at the end of the year to wear on opening day in RF.

Last edited 3 days ago by Arky Wags

But they’re right!

The scarcity of sure-fire SS prospects is precisely due to how high the bar is for success at the Major League level.

A guy can “play shortstop”, but if he gives up ten runs relative to the ability of his positional peers then he’s also given up every bit of positional value gained from playing the highest-value infield position. At that point, the logical decision would be to move him to a position where he could add value, and the club could deploy an alternative to the position in which he failed.

I look at the guys giving up runs in that range, and I don’t see any who look visibly worse than Cruz.


Cruz is as good defensively as anything we have had recently, so I cannot see any reason why he will not be our SS from June 2022 through June 2023, when I expect Peguero to be ready to take the job. Cruz, after being given the chance, will do what is best for the team in late 2023 and beyond – possibly CF/RF and DH.


This team is definitely at the point of the rebuild where they need to have real, honest conversations on what is going to maximize this team’s abilities to win in the majors. Hayes is locked in at third. Reynolds would play somewhere if we commit to keeping him. Everything else is murky.

To me, it really comes down to how do we maximize each player’s ability, and make the pieces fit. If Cruz can play passable major league level defense at SS, you put him there, and move everyone else. The fact that he looks totally disinterested in playing the outfield makes me want to keep him at SS more. I don’t want to encourage complaining, but he’s too good to have him shut down on us. If he can play average-ish defense at SS, but would be below average in an Outfield Corner, whether due to effort or lack of reps, there’s really no decision to make, he should play SS. Peguero’s profile works plenty fine at 2B.

I don’t particularly care about maximizing our team defensively, I want it maximized in totality. Until proven otherwise, to me, that’s Cruz at SS


I don’t believe that Cruz could play an even a mediocre or passable SS in the majors right now.


I watch O’Neil Cruz play SS, and then I turn on any random major league baseball game, and the difference in ability is plainly obvious.

Do the folks who say he can “stay at SS” think he’s actually on par with real Major League shortstops?


Are any of those “difference in ability” Shortstops wearing Pirate Uni’s? How long Cruz stays at SS for the Pirates will depend on whether he can hit for power in MLB, and the quality of players challenging him at SS. Peguero can take the position from him – I do not see any others close.


It happens to be perfectly legal in the rules of Major League Baseball to acquire other, better, baseball players.

Other clubs even take advantage of it!

Arky Wags

Are you sure that’s actually allowed?!


This is the part that aggravates me with the FO thinking we’ve become accustomed to:

I could see a move to the outfield around the time if/when the team becomes competitive once again and can’t afford to live with the errors as much as they would be in their current phase of the rebuild.”

This is why this “rebuild” is really starting to weigh on me. Still having to say “if/when the team becomes competitive”. They should be making these decisions as if they already are competitive. Make the decisions NOW that you’re expecting to take affect WHEN (if) they’re competitive. Cause instead of letting him become accustomed to the OF now, they’ll let him scuffle at SS, then move him to the OF, and then we’ll have to wait for him to get comfortable in the OF.


He can’t play SS on a major league team. Get real. But I guess he can play it for a team that doesn’t really act like a major league organization. Any other club would have had him in the outfield or at 1rst base for the last two or three years. They’ve actually hurt his development by encouraging this madness of keeping him at SS. You only have to watch him go in the hole or charge a slow roller to ask yourself, “WTF are they thinking?” He’s 6’07 with a power stroke. Teach him to play around the bag at first and spend 90% of his time working on hitting. They’ve got a future All Star in Peguero and they’re spending their time placating a petulant kid to keep him happy because of that bat speed and power.

Arky Wags

I don’t think you have to slide him all the way to the other side of the defensive spectrum. He’s still a good athlete, so I’d move him to the grass somewhere. Which they should have done earlier, of course.


This is the shame of it to me.

O’neil Cruz has every tool needed to be a highly valuable defender at a number of positions.

But they’ve forced him into the one in which his value will be judged relative to the best defenders on the planet, where no single person like him has literally ever succeeded.

Last edited 3 days ago by NMR
Arky Wags

It almost feels like they got seduced by the possibility of it and let themselves be convinced he could do it. As in, “ok he’s not the disaster we thought this would be from the start, so he can definitely do it!” Which…there are a whole range of outcomes in between that and it sure seems like it’s gonna be really tough for him to approach average.

I don’t want to be “that pirates guy” but…goddamn doesn’t it feel like they’ll ham-hand their way through this whole process with him?


Amen! I could not agree with this more. They fucked around and now they’re about to find out, cross our fingers.


My god, thank you.


He should be playing SS at least 5X/week in Pittsburgh now instead of Castro. And would be if it wasn’t for Super 2.

Don’t know and right now don’t care when he needs to move to OF. I just want to see Cruz missiles into the Allegheny. TODAY!!!


I tend to agree with John Dreker. I think he will move off short when Peguero arrives. That des not mean he might not still see some time in the outfield in the mean time, but I do not think he will move for good until someone better comes along, i.e. Peguero, and forces a move.


I go with Wilber’s answer…it all comes down to who is running the asylum and how long Shelton is the manager and his moving players everywhere instead of the players establishing a position and then sometime down the road becoming a rover…


Sounds just like Little League


seeing as how position “versatility” is an organization wide philosophy now, i’m not sure a new manager would do anything differently

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