I don’t know what Oneil Cruz will become.
Ben Cherington doesn’t know.
John Baker doesn’t know.
Zero prospect evaluators — whether in the game or outside of it, on the internet like myself — know, either.
Oneil Cruz doesn’t even know.
Though, I feel he’s going to have more say, and ultimately his version will win out.
And who are any of us to say he is wrong to do things his way?
Who do you think taught Oneil Cruz how to do this?
ONEIL CRUZ JUST HIT HIS FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN!!! pic.twitter.com/PIMMswXDYl
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) October 3, 2021
Who taught him to react like that, with such ease and comfort, being able to manipulate and put his 6-foot-7 body in position to fling his bat down like a golf club and send a ball over the fence?
Is that even something that can be taught?
Who do you think taught Oneil Cruz how to do this?
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsP2) October 2, 2021
Playing next to second base, Cruz goes into an all-out sprint all the way to foul ground in left field to make a catch — beating the third baseman and the left fielder, who both had less ground to cover.
Who taught him to cover that much ground, that quickly, that instinctively?
There is not a player like Oneil Cruz out there, so my guess is he didn’t learn it from watching someone else.
He can do things no one else can do, whether hitting a home run in fantastical fashion, or ranging from second base to the left field foul grounds to make a catch. That comes from a gifted ability of height, mixed with his speed and agility from that height.
There’s no player like him –a point to which we can point and imagine if Cruz could end up with some unprecedented results.
The only way we can truly project what Oneil Cruz can do in his MLB career is simply by watching him be the first 6-foot-7 shortstop making huge plays and hitting easy homers — and wondering in amazement to ourselves “Can he do that again?”
In a way, we are all Oneil Cruz.
Or, at the very least, we can all put ourselves in his shoes.
Because we’ve probably all been unfairly passed over for something that objectively we should have gotten.
Or, we’ve been asked to do something we really don’t want to do.
This organization moved him to shortstop a few years ago, insisting that he could play the position in the Majors one day.
As of today, that same organization with a completely different General Manager is saying the same thing.
In fact, yesterday Cody Potanko at Pittsburgh Baseball Now quoted Ben Cherington saying that they believe Cruz can play shortstop at the Major Leagues.
However, the Pirates have Cruz working on his outfield in Triple-A.
Let’s be honest for a second, though. Cruz is the biggest upside prospect they have. They would never admit this, but the Pirates are very clearly holding him down for Super Two purposes.
That window isn’t a specific date, and it’s hard to project. Typically, players who are held down for those purposes arrive around this time. One factor with that process this year is that if Cruz finishes in the top two in Rookie of the Year voting, he gets a full year of service, no matter when he comes up.
I don’t want to talk about contract details though.
That is MLB’s system. The Pirates, as a small market team, are going to exploit those rules as best they can, in order to maximize their spending over the long-term. That’s just sensible. If I were the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I’d do the same thing. That’s the worst part of this game, is that the players ultimately become chess pieces in the end for overall team building.
Forget MLB’s system.
We are all Oneil Cruz.
And even though we aren’t, we can all see that Cruz has been deserving of a look in the Majors this year, comparatively speaking.
The Pirates called up Jack Suwinski from Altoona, and let him develop in Pittsburgh. He seems to be there for good now.
They brought up Cal Mitchell, Travis Swaggerty, and now Canaan Smith-Njigba to play the outfield. Granted, that’s not a position Cruz is good at right now, and he doesn’t really want to play there.
And why should he?
He’s heard his organization say that he will be an MLB shortstop for several years, across two front offices.
Even if we have doubts today about those long-term abilities, the Pirates have given 2022 opportunities to Rodolfo Castro at shortstop, and he comes with the same long-term concerns about his ability to play that spot.
So, why hasn’t Cruz gotten his chance?
If we’re also being honest, it’s because Cruz is regarded by everyone outside of the Pirates as a much more valuable prospect than those guys above. They may never admit this — because why slight those other players — but the Pirates almost certainly think the same thing about Cruz.
For that reason, they probably don’t want to bring him up for a trial like the guys above. They probably want him up for good when he arrives.
Who do you think taught Tim Williams how to write a column that would set Pirates Twitter on fire and in result, cause Kody Duncan to be declared legally dead for two minutes and forty seven seconds last Tuesday?
Is that even something that can be taught?
If I’m truly honest, I didn’t expect any reaction when I published that article last week, outside of the normal responses from the normal amount of people.
Instead, I got a reminder of just what happens when Tim Williams gives his opinion about something that he believes in, that most others don’t.
I would still publish that article, even knowing the reaction, because I don’t know what Oneil Cruz will become either.
I just work at this site, where I publish the informed opinions.
And who am I, anyway?
I am The Producer.
And who is Tim Williams?
Honestly, he’s an out of control, 6-foot-4 adult child of a monster, someone who has an insatiable need for attention at all times, and knows too much information — way too much — about Kang the Conqueror. Some days I think he was never loved enough. Some days I think he could never possibly be loved for as much as he needs. Some days I think he’s a holographic simulation. He spends a lot of his days listening to vinyl records and typing on his computer every 108 minutes like he’s Desmond Hume from LOST. He’s one of six people on the entire planet who listens to Phoebe Bridgers before 9 AM. Four of the others are teenagers, so we can’t legally publish their names here, but the final one is Connor Oberst.
Tim Williams might also be the Oneil Cruz of producing Pirates content.
Hear me out, because I know we’re all thinking the same thing, right?
The guy who botched the Gregory Polanco promotion back in the day?
I’m actually not sure if I’m legally allowed to remind you of Gregory Polanco while discussing Oneil Cruz. Forget I said anything.
Anyway, Tim Williams makes way too many errors with his writing to ever be considered the top prospect of Pirates content in my book. I should know. I catch 99.9% of those errors. I’m the Mason Martin of this site. Tim Williams doesn’t even seem like he cares half the time. When he does apply himself — oh, it’s so beautiful. He takes you on a whimsical journey of prospect evaluation explanation that is so simple that I barely have to produce a thing. You have no clue where that magic came from, or how to replicate it. But those moments are rare. Most of the time, I earn my fucking pay with Tim Williams.
In my days as The Producer, I would say that Stephen Nesbitt, Travis Sawchick, Charlie Wilmoth, and James Santelli are the best Pirates content producers I’ve seen in Pittsburgh. Let’s call them “The Big Leagues.”
Now, let’s take a look at the current group of “prospects.”
Jason Mackey is the best news reporter right now, and Alex Stumpf is the best data analyst. I, myself, would rather read a prospect article from Anthony Murphy than from Tim Williams. Any day of the week. Let’s add Mike Persak to that list, too. If we’re getting specific, no one is as dialed into the Pirates draft, international market, and rookie leagues as John Dreker. No one has tracked this farm system longer than Wilbur Miller, whose Player Profiles have been around since Aramis Ramirez was in High-A. I’ll let you think about that for a second. Rob Biertempfel has been on the Pirates beat longer than anyone, and has seen everything behind the scenes during times that were a lot more depressing than anything seen under Ben Cherington and Neal Huntington. John Perrotto has been around grinding it out for maybe longer, and has some of the best and liveliest stories about the history of the Pirates. My dude Kevin Gorman — he actually took the photo of Tim Williams standing on the field at PNC Park so Tim could look like a real reporter wearing his big boy suit — Kevin is single-handedly keeping the Pittsburgh Trib alive. Alan Saunders, who used to be our beat writer here at Pirates Prospects, and is just an absolute classic professional, is now doing an amazing job running his new site Pittsburgh Baseball Now — where Danny Demilio and Cody Potanko have been cutting their teeth reporting on the team this year. Take me with you, guys. Please. I can’t work for Tim anymore. Justice delos Santos is cooler than every person on this list combined, and knows the location of every doughnut shop in the entire world. And I’m sure I’m forgetting people. Tim smokes a lot of weed around the office. It’s hard to not get a contact high on his Florida medical grade stuff and forget everything you ever knew about an entire subject. My life is like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I actually forgot my legal name. Tim got out of control and used my birth certificate as a giant rolling paper on 4/20, so at the moment I have no legal identity, or any recollection of what that identity may be.
I am deliberately leaving Dejan Kovacevic off the above list. The last time we spoke, he said some heinous things to me, along the lines of “Enjoy it now, Producer, because you’re not going to be able to take off to eat burgers at Five Guys and read comic books every Wednesday once Tim Williams gets going.”
And his unfiltered splash of truth was right. After a slow start to his 2022 writing season, Tim Williams turned on the guns in May, and I never found out what happened in DC vs Vampires.
I hate Dejan Kovacevic.
I hate him more than I hate Tim Williams.
But dammit, I respect him. He is the best in my industry of producers.
Now, if I were to put all of those people together and tell you to create a prospect list of people who could go on to go to the big leagues with Sawchick, Nesbitt, Wilmoth, Santelli — and it’s occurring to me very deep in this analogy that we’re essentially ranking nerds — then my prediction is that a lot of outlets would rank Tim Williams as that top prospect.
What they don’t even realize is that Tim Williams doesn’t have any interest in applying himself to be the best at anything, much to the chagrin of his family and ex-wives. All of the outlet predictions of Tim Williams rising up to one day be the biggest sports writer in Pittsburgh history leave out one key fact:
Tim Williams just wants to coast through life producing magic that no one else can create, but on his own terms. He doesn’t care if you think he’s the best. He knows he could be if he wanted to be. He doesn’t even want to dedicate his full attention to baseball. He wants to write a novel series about Time Travelers vs Vampires, with a loose mental health analogy pitting anxiety against depression. I’ve read some of it. It’s about as dark as you’d expect from someone who listens to Phoebe Bridgers before the sun comes up. It’s probably going to be a movie one day, though. Ultimately, I think it will offend so many Evangelical Christians that in the future Tim Williams will be shot in the back steps outside of his Brownstone home while smoking weed in Washington Square Park in New York City.
That’s the ideas that come out of his imagination, anyway.
Until then, he’d probably settle for walks to Mount Washington overlooking PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
None of those outlets ranking writers even realize that Tim Williams just wants to get to Pittsburgh right now. He doesn’t even care if he’s the best writer once he’s there. The outlets are the ones with those expectations for Tim Williams. And there are some in Pittsburgh who have those expectations. None of that matters if Tim Williams doesn’t want it.
Anyway, I’ve been silent on this site for 14 seasons, but I thought this perspective might help to close out the article. I normally spend most of my time trying to get Pat Lackey to do a guest article. After last week, I felt the need to step in and make sure we all realize that Tim Williams was just doing what Tim Williams does best: He was trying to give an unpopular opinion because it might be something you need to think about. And I let him publish it, because I agreed. Just like this week’s opinion, which might be unpopular. I never know. I just produce this stuff.
Don’t for a second think any of this makes Tim Williams a good person. Did you know he ate my entire birthday cake three years in a row by 10 AM? The third year it was even iced with the words “Happy Birthday Producer! Please, Tim, Do not eat any of this until after lunch.” The cake was so large. He ate it all anyway. Before 10 AM. Honestly, I wasn’t even mad that year.
Now, I’m going to edit some honesty into the rest of his column before I publish. He’s going to be pissed when he casually strolls out of bed from his deep indica sleep around 11:37 AM and sees this. I’m probably going to walk to the local Publix and work today to avoid the backlash. I hope they have carrots at the Deli. Maybe help me out and tell him his Bubba Chandler update was good. He’s shallow and stupid. He’ll soon forget all about this.
See you all next time!
Sometimes I feel like a prospect in a complex way I could never possibly explain to you all.
Or, at least I feel like I know the feeling.
Do you know what I’m trying to say?
Because I remember the days of taking big swings and often misses on Twitter, trying to hit a home run that would get me to the big leagues.
I remember sprinting all day long across the field so that I could catch that bit of information that everyone else was going to drop.
There was a point in time where I realized that I could do more than this site. I got offers to write outside of baseball. I got offers to write for sites in baseball. I took one of them at Baseball America, and I honestly still don’t think it’s real.
I know this sounds weird, but can you imagine if there was some kind of system in place that ranked us Pirates writers like prospects?
If such a place were real, and they named me the top prospect, I wouldn’t want the expectations.
Because I have so many lofty expectations for what I can do already, and I’ve got my own goals for that. It’s hard to imagine that anyone else could accurately predict what my goals are for my writing career when they were projecting out a path. What are the odds that they would project a path that I would want to work to follow?
I think about this, and I think about Oneil Cruz and the Pirates.
Only Oneil Cruz knows what he wants to become.
The rest of us, the Pirates included, are just projecting our hopes and expectations onto him.
The same is true for every other prospect, by the way. There have been over 20,000 players who have made the majors in its entire history. Making the big leagues itself is an accomplishment. What you do once you’re there? That’s up to you.
Except, the team does have a say with their opinion.
In this case, Oneil Cruz wants to play shortstop. And while the Pirates are publicly positive about Cruz’s ability to play shortstop, they’re also tacitly acknowledging that he might not be able to play a good shortstop in the majors long-term, and might need to be moved soon. Notice that Liover Peguero isn’t getting work in the outfield like Cruz.
My thought is that the Pirates are best off giving Cruz his chance at shortstop once
Super Two passes he is finished with his development in the minors.
And then, give him that position the rest of the year. Let him show if he really wants to be an MLB shortstop, including all of the work it takes to stick there.
I feel like uber prospects like Cruz — who can do things no one else can, and coast by on raw talent and freakish physical ability — those guys will never actually learn how to consistently apply their skill until they’ve failed at the top level.
After keeping Cruz as a shortstop for so long, the Pirates are going to have to give him a chance, even if they don’t believe he will stick there long-term. I feel they could run the risk of poisoning the well if they don’t give him a shot. Not just because it would have wasted years of development, but because that would actively change the vision Cruz has for his own career.
What Oneil Cruz wants might not be what the Pirates want from Oneil Cruz.
What the Pirates want might not be what Oneil Cruz wants from Oneil Cruz.
But who are any of us — the Pirates included — to expect anything specific from Cruz?
None of us even know what Oneil Cruz will become.
It’s up for Cruz to show everyone. And when the Pirates eventually call him up, hopefully he gets that chance at shortstop.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.