High Upside shortstop likely to outgrow the position with electric tools and athleticism but some rawness and long levers.
While he comes with a ton of risk, Cruz simply has some of the most dynamic raw tools in the entire minors and has continually outplayed expectations. Despite playing the entire season at just 20 years old, Cruz split the season between High-A and Double-A where he was a full four years below average age. He missed significant time with a fractured foot, but came back strong from the injury.
I don’t think anyone expected the mammoth framed Cruz to still be playing shortstop at Double-A, let alone making clear improvements at the position, but here we are. While it’s still more likely we see Cruz wind up at third base or right field, he played all 73 games this year at short. Evaluators saw Cruz make strides at short with his footwork and now think with his speed and surprising spryness he has a realistic 50/50 shot to stay there. No matter where he plays, his plus speed and laser cannon of an arm will play up. Cruz is a 60 runner, who should stay above average at maturity. With his athleticism, he could possibly even stay plus. His arm is an easy plus, with many evaluators seeing 70 grade arm talent. His absurd 4.71 RF/9 (a range tool using putouts+assists/ nine innings played) would have been the best in baseball since 2017. Adalberto Mondesi was the top guy in the last two years at 4.57.
Cruz had a big year with the bat. Despite being 2.4 years below average age in High-A Bradenton, Cruz managed a .301/.345/.515 line good for a 154 wRC+. At Double-A Altoona, one of the most extreme pitchers parks in the extremely pitcher friendly Eastern League, Cruz managed an incredible 120 wRC+ at over four years below average age. He also made huge strides with his plate discipline at what is considered the hardest level jump in the minors for a hitter, dropping his strikeout rate from 26.2 percent to 25.7 and simultaneously raising his walk rate from 5.5 percent to 11! That is truly insane for a 20 year old with a gangly 6-foot-7 frame trying to handle a position like short. A down stint in the Arizona Fall League failed to put a feather in his 2019 cap, it was a huge year.
While he’s still translating it into games, Cruz stands out for conservative 70 grade raw power that many pro scouts already consider to be 80 grade. As he fills in his frame (which should add a legitimate 50 pounds) he should get to the rare 80 grade. Cruz took Kevin Gausman deep in a rehab start 456 ft to dead center field for a point of reference. Despite a comical 3.1 percent HR/FB in Double-A, Cruz got his flyball percentage to jump from 29.2 in High-A to 38.1 in Double-A. He also managed to keep his infield flyball rates as low as 12.5 percent while consistently using all fields. These jumps don’t show up in the statline but add even more polish to a long-limbed 20 year old playing against 24 year olds.
When it’s all said and done, Cruz offers massive frame projection upside to what is already 70 grade raw power with emerging game power, a potentially 70 grade arm and plus speed. Throw in the potential to somehow stick at short and the potential to be a star in right field if not and dynamic athleticism. Then toss in exceptional production for his age at levels well above his age scale. Then showcase a greatly improving hit tool that should become average despite his gangly 6-foot-7 limbs…and you have the Pirates’ top prospect.