Oneil Cruz Column

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz throws to first base against the Tampa Bay Rays during a game on Friday.

Baseball scouts love what they call comps – comparing one player to another player.

For example, Player A reminds a scout a lot of Player B. Or Player C’s skillset is reminiscent of Player D.

It is all part of scouts’ parlance and how they describe a player’s talent and/or physical characteristics.

However, there are no easy comps for Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Oneil Cruz. The 6-foot-7 Cruz is the tallest player to appear at shortstop in major league history.

“There is no one quite like him,” a scout from a National League team this week. “I’m stumped on coming up with a comp.”

Added a scout from an American League team, “I know this might be a stretch, but I’d say Darryl Strawberry playing shortstop. It’s the only thing I can think of.”

Strawberry, of course, was a right fielder who starred for the New York Mets and other teams from 1983-99. Strawberry generated tremendous power with his 6-foot-6 frame, had a strong arm and was a fast runner.

Cruz fits the mold.

“His tools are off the chart,” Pirates designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach said. “He can hit the ball a long way, he throws the ball hard, he can run — he does it all.”

Cruz has already showed all facets of his games since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday.

However, playing right field is one thing. Playing shortstop at the major league level is much more difficult as it takes a great deal of agility and outstanding reflexes.

That leads to the question of whether a 6-foot-7 player can stay at shortstop in the long term?

The Pirates don’t know for sure, but they plan on spending the rest of the season finding out. Though they experimented with Cruz playing in the outfield at Indianapolis before his call up, he will be their everyday shortstop.

The Pirates have been almost obsessed with turning every player on their roster into a utilityman. Thus, it is refreshing they are going to keep Cruz in one spot.

Some in the Pirates’ organization have felt Cruz hasn’t taken defense seriously enough over the years. However, when he learned in spring training he would not be breaking camp with the major league club despite shining in two games with the Pirates at the end of last season, it served as a wakeup call on many levels.

“My mindset was just to get better defensively,” Cruz said. “I was very focused on that, and I put a lot of effort into that, and I was able to see a lot of results.”

The Pirates are hopeful Cruz can stay at shortstop, where his power would make him an elite player if he can handle the position defensively.

“The defensive side of the game is something that will continue to grow, continue to improve,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “We like the work he was doing defensively while he was in Indy. We think the defense is also trending in a positive direction since early in the season.

“That’s not something that needs to be perfect. Guys are going to make errors from time to time. But we wanted to see some positive direction there. We think we have.”

When I asked scouts about Cruz being a long-term shortstop at this time last year, they were skeptical. However, those same scouts are starting to change their minds.

“He’s gotten a lot better,’ said a scout from an NL team. “His actions have gotten a lot better. He plays the position more like he’s 6-foot-1 now instead of 6-foot 7. Time will tell but he’s at least trending in the right direction.”

If Cruz can prove to be a regular shortstop, he would certainly be incomparable.

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