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O’Neil Cruz: A Player to Watch in 2023

Baseball, MLB article at Knup Sports

O’Neil Cruz could be the X factor for the Pirates in 2023. Read this article to see why Ian feels he is a player to watch in 2023’s MLB campaign.

O’Neil Cruz is a 24 year old Dominican-born MLB shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made his MLB Debut in 2021, but only played in 2 games that season as he was called up with only that many games left. However, he didn’t waste any time getting his career started, hitting his 1st home run in only his 2nd MLB game.

Cruz appeared in 87 games in 2022, hitting .233 with 17 home runs. He caught the eye of many very quickly. In his 2022 season debut on June 20th, he launched a ball 96.7 mph across the diamond, which at that time was the hardest thrown assist in the majors that season.

A couple months later, on August 24th, O’Neil recorded the hardest hit ball in the Statcast era, punishing a ball 122.4 mph off the bat. The ball was hit so hard, it hit the top of the wall and limited Cruz to only a single.

O’Neil Cruz has had a pretty fiery start to his career to say the least. He has the ability to be as explosive as anyone in the MLB, it will just take some time for him to become consistent with his craft.

One of a Kind Player

O’Neil Cruz is a 6 foot 7 shortstop. Yes, you read that right. He is the tallest shortstop to start a game in MLB history by two inches. With the average shortstop in the MLB being right around 6 feet tall, having a player like O’Neil Cruz truly is one-of-a-kind.

Not only is Cruz much taller than his counterparts at shortstop, but he is also extremely fast. His sprinting speed has been recorded as fast as 31.5 feet per second, which is even slightly faster than NFL speedster WR Tyreek Hill. Not only can he absolutely hammer the baseball, but his speed can be a huge factor on the basepaths as well.

Given these metrics, O’Neil Cruz truly is a special player. His power and speed combo have the ability to be ultra-competitive. I would be surprised if we see someone with his stature and ability enter the league any time soon.

Expectations for This Season

In a recent press conference, Cruz shared some strong expectations for himself in this year’s campaign. “I’m looking for 30/30, or 40/40 this year.” This means that he is aiming for at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, or 40 of each for that matter.
This sort of season would certainly give serious attention to O’Neil Cruz and the Pirates. While I’m not going to rule this sort of season out for him, there are some things that may plague O’Neil along the way, and ultimately keep him from reaching such a milestone.

What Could Hold Him Back

While Cruz proved that he has serious pop, he wasn’t very consistent at the plate while doing so. The Pirates young shortstop was striking out at an alarming rate. However, this sort of thing isn’t rare for a rookie, and really isn’t rare in the MLB anymore either.

O’Neil recorded 126 strikeouts in 361 plate attempts in 2022, or for a 34% strikeout rate. For O’Neil to find success at the highest level of baseball, he must find a way to make contact in critical situations.

I do expect this percentage to lower for Cruz this season, but for someone with his style of play, I don’t expect a massive change. O’Neil Cruz is one of the best young studs in the MLB, and he certainly is a must-see player for any baseball fans this season given his one-of-a-kind abilities.

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