I spent the entire right field recap yesterday discussing how the 2021 season is the last chance for Gregory Polanco to break out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I’ve followed Polanco on this site for a long time, ever since seeing him as a tall, very skinny teen at Pirate City in 2010. He has since grown into his frame, and along the way became one of the most high-upside prospects in the game, before reaching the majors where he didn’t come close to that upside.
The irony is that his projected replacement offers the same package of high upside from an extremely tall frame. The Pirates have had Oneil Cruz at shortstop the last few seasons, which was a Neal Huntington assignment, but one that Ben Cherington didn’t immediately abandon. They have better defensive options at the position, and while it’s not out of the question that Cruz could stick at the spot and play it in the majors, if we’re looking at the best future defensive alignment, it’s not Cruz at shortstop.
Cruz is athletic enough that he can play anywhere, which is where the shortstop discussion comes in. The Pirates don’t need him at third base because of Ke’Bryan Hayes. They probably won’t need him at second base, due to Nick Gonzales. I’ve got Liover Peguero as the better long-term shortstop option. That leaves first base or the outfield.
I think outfield has the most value for Cruz, as it will allow him to utilize his plus arm strength, while putting his large size to the test with his range capabilities. Right field seems like the best bet, maximizing the value of the arm, while not trying to overwhelm Cruz with left field in PNC Park, which is basically a center field assignment.
In Cruz, the Pirates have a second chance at the dynamic player they hoped to get in Gregory Polanco. Cruz has the massively tall frame with the elite power potential to be a middle of the order hitter in the majors. He’s got the chance to hit for average with the power, and add damage with his speed. His range and arm might even add defensive value on the field, as long as he’s better at running routes than Polanco has been the last few years.
My thought is that it would take Cruz less time to reach the majors as a corner outfielder, versus a shortstop. The outfield position would allow him to focus entirely on the bat in the upper levels, which could get him into Pittsburgh by the end of the 2022 season, if not by the end of 2021.
You obviously want to maximize upside with players, and with Cruz that would be finding some way to get him to stick at shortstop and play the position well. With so many other shortstop options, the Pirates have the ability to focus only on the bat with Cruz. And with so many other areas of need, the Pirates won’t be hurt by plugging Cruz into an easier defensive alignment to fill a hole on the team.
There are other corner outfield prospects who could eventually take over right field. I’ll discuss them later this week when breaking down the candidates for left field. There are so many variables in play that it’s entirely possible Cruz could end up elsewhere on the field, or not even in the majors.
If I’m projecting my best case lineup for the future team, Cruz is in right field, giving a power boost to that core of position players projected to be giving above-average play from the infield.