Oneil Cruz of the Pirates has limitless potential. His comeback: Baseball Giannis

Via Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

You never forget the first time you saw it Oneil Cruz face to face.

Obviously, you are prepared to see someone tall. But seeing a baseball player built to look like Charlie’s clumsy Mike Teevee and the Chocolate Factory wearing baseball pants in a dugout, and not sprinting down an NBA courthouse, is truly dazzling. ears. The pirate rookie low scores aren’t just high; he’s long, with levers that last forever like Mrs. Incredible’s.

“I remember seeing him in Spring Training in ’21 and thinking: ‘oh, that’s a high pitcher,’ the Pirates’ painkiller Chase De Jong told FOX Sports. “He didn’t appear to stretch and I was like ‘where did a man’s lightning rod go?” Then someone told me he was out of breath and I heard him take BP and was immediately like ‘wow.’

“The first time I got to see him in person was spring 2020 practice,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton told FOX Sports. “He walked out onto the pitch and Jarrod Dyson yelled ‘What is Kevin Durant doing here?'”

At 6 feet 7, Cruz is already the tallest daily short player in baseball history. If he was born in The Bronx or Paris or Buenos Aires, Cruz would be a little forward on the Toronto Raptors or similar. But by the force of circumstances, the 23-year-old skyscraper from Nizao in the Dominican Republic played baseball.

And he’s very good at it.

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

On Sunday at Citi Field, he launched a 99 mph heater from the Best Pitcher On Earth™ Jacob deGrom to deliver an in-game three-round bomb, leaving two-time winner Cy Young uttered full incredulous. Last week, also against Metshe launched a 113 mph, 422-foot torpedo blast into the Allegheny River. Tommy Hunter. Earlier this season, he beat last year’s NL award winner Cy Young two times Corbin Burnes and one against this year’s likely winner Sandy Alcantara.

Since he was called up to the MLB at the end of June, the phenom named after Paul O’Neill’s prophecy has been tantalizing teammates, opponents and fans with his immense raw talent. Many argue that Cruz may be the most naturally gifted baseball player ever.

Back in July, he hit a 97.8 mph pitch from stop to first point of origin, the hardest throw ever recorded by a quarterback.

And on August 24th against Atlanta Kyle WrightCruz broke Giancarlo Stanton The record for the hardest hit baseball in the Statcast era (and possibly unprecedented) by smashing a 122.4 mph laser beam off the right field wall at PNC Park.

He’s also somehow the 11th fastest player in baseball. Cruz was a physical specimen, a unicorn unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the sport, a man capable of scoring every night. Undoubtedly, that natural ability needs a bit of management, but over time Cruz could very well develop into the most spectacular and dominant player in the game.

Basically, he’s baseball Giannis.

During my first few years in Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo is an inexperienced potential supernova who can understand grappling with some of the finer points of basketball. Thanks to hard work, good coaching, maturity and patience, Greek Freak has become the most iconic character in the NBA.

Cruz hopes to do the same.

“That’s a great compliment.” Cruz told FOX Sports through an interpreter after hearing that comparison, his face lit up with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. “That guy is the absolute of basketball.”

Admittedly, the youngster has quite a few ways to go before he gets a taste of the extent of Giannis’ success. On Monday night, Cruz passed Joey Gallo gives the highest hit rate of all MLB (38.79% to 38.77%). He’s had an incredible 116 whistles in his 299 appearances this year. The achievement for offensive-oriented rookies is not great.

Of the other 19 first year celebrities in the Wild Card era reaching a K ratio of over 35% (minimum 200 PA), only three became apparent successes (Austin Riley, Byron Buxton and Javier Báez). Remaining or discarded (Tyler Austin, Mike Olt, Evan White) or nestled into careers as competent but unreliable role players (Jorge AlfaroKeon Broxton, Miguel Sano).

However, despite his astronomical K-ratio, Cruz has remained an above-average player this season. As of Tuesday morning, he has 17 home runs and 102 OPS+ in those 299 appearances. And so far in September, hit rate is 42%, he is one of the best players in the league, to the tune of .961 OPS.

“It sounds rudimentary, but I think this year he’s learned that turning around on shots is really important.” Shelton said. “In a minor, he can reach out those long arms and bring things into play. Here you can’t do that. But if he swings his arm and makes contact with an attack, it’s a hit. will fly away.”

Cruz’s ability to simply hold his head high in front of the big pitches in the league this season is nothing to behold as he is still learning how to use his unique frame. When Dodgers Signed to him as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2015, he is only 6 feet-1 tall. But he continues to grow.

“I have to go get new clothes right away.” Cruz recalls. “There was a time when I was average, like an inch or two a year. My family ended up buying me a lot of clothes that were too big because they knew I would continue to grow and eventually grow into a they were right.”

When he debuted for Los Angeles At the 2016 Dominican National Championship, Cruz was only about 6 feet-4 tall. A year later, when he went to Pittsburgh to get his Tony Watson reliever, he was two inches taller. Now he’s 6 feet 7, pushing 6 foot-8. And while he’s probably finished inching his way to heaven, getting comfortable with his height and length has been a big part of Cruz’s development as a hitman. .

Mets painkiller Tommy Hunter, who gave up that waterfront rocket explosion to Cruz earlier this month, echoed that sentiment when asked about the Pittsburgh slug.

“It’s scary. He’s 23 years old and still coming into his own. How big he is, as long as he has, the amount of torque he can generate, it’s explosive. is a special talent.”

And which home run?

“I needed a neck brace or some muscle relaxant, I had to turn my head around to see how fast it went.” Hunter joked.

When asked about his amazing natural abilities, it is understandable that Cruz is a rather shy person who is quick to deflect attention from himself and towards what his achievements mean. for the team. He claims he’s also not happy about his new escape velocity record because “there’s so much talent coming out that you just know there’s always someone going to do something bigger and better.” .” His main goal, he said, is to help the once great Pittsburgh franchise return to post-season glory.

But humility only goes so far when you can hit a baseball harder than anyone else in human history. Cruz’s outstanding talent and reel speak for themselves. His burgeoning superstar was on display at Citi Field last week, with young fans eagerly clamoring for autographs and posing for pictures with the ball player just a few years taller than them.

The gap between the current Oneil Cruz and Oneil Cruz could one day become larger than any other leaper. Going through that canyon takes time and patience, support and initiative, trust and confidence. It was an abyss of development that Cruz had experienced before; The gap between the 16 year old Oneil and the current Oneil could be even bigger.

There’s a good chance Cruz never reached his full potential and settled into a career as a volatile marking machine. But if he gets close to something, Cruz becomes the type of player you buy tickets to see. The type of player you tell your grandchildren that you have to meet in person. The kind of players with miraculous sports feats are scattered across the front pages of websites across the country.

Baseball’s answer to Giannis.

Jake Mintz, the bigger half of @CespedesBBQ, is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and as such, he leads a lonely life most of October. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly pedaling. car. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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