Oneil Cruz is the primary 6-foot-7 shortstop you have ever seen. He may not be the final

When the Pittsburgh Pirates summoned prime prospect Oneil Cruz this week, these trying to elucidate the joy round him needed to attain into different realms for comparisons. The Giannis Antetokounmpo of baseball. Aaron Decide’s top with Tyreek Hill’s pace.

Anybody who was truly satisfied to activate the Pirates sport wanted no additional analogies. The fun of Cruz’s potential was all there, pure visible stimulus.

You see, Cruz is 6-foot-7, and he performs shortstop. And he is not a novelty act or a fringe participant with a cool quirk. Till Tuesday, when Pittsburgh lastly ended its notably obnoxious marketing campaign of service time manipulation, he was one of the thrilling gamers left within the minor leagues. Coming into the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked him the No. 12 prospect within the sport.

In his first sport of 2022 (he made a one-game MLB debut on the finish of 2021), Cruz threw the ball more durable than any MLB infielder thus far this season, ran quicker than any Pirate has this season and hit the ball more durable than any Pirate has this season.

Just by beginning a sport, Cruz grew to become the tallest shortstop in MLB historical past. And he wanted these mold-busting, comparison-defying skills that so not often mingle inside one physique to flip the prevailing query from “Why? to “Why not?”

However the place it was as soon as a scorching take to assume Cruz would stick at shortstop lengthy sufficient to smell the majors, he may rapidly evolve from an anomaly to a trendsetter. If he maintains traction at one in every of baseball’s most demanding and storied positions, his arrival may wind up as a milestone for unicorns conquering the positional tropes and preconceived notions of one more sport.

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz prepares for a pitch within the discipline. (AP Photograph / Gene J. Puskar)

Oneil Cruz is MLB’s tallest shortstop … by a mile

Being 6-foot-7 and enjoying shortstop is totally exceptional.

Solely six gamers who stand 6-foot-5 or taller, together with Cruz, have ever appeared in an MLB sport at shortstop for any period of time. Solely two have ever performed a lot as 10 video games in a season there – Archi Cianfrocco, who principally performed first base for the San Diego Padres within the Nineties, and Mike Morse, who got here up as a shortstop however rapidly moved to the outfield.

The tallest gamers to stake out precise careers within the six gap have been within the 6-foot-4 vary. That breed of quarterback-bodied shortstop started with Cal Ripken Jr. and has proliferated a bit in recent times with Corey Seager and Carlos Correa. Cruz, who’s listed at 220 kilos, has a slender, lanky physique kind nearer to Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s 6-foot-3.

When Cruz was even youthful and even ganglier, Baseball Prospectus prospect author Jarrett Seidler was within the pack of scouts attempting to foresee his future. It was understandably tough to understand how it might look within the majors.

“It is price noting that Cruz is not simply going to be the most important common shortstop in MLB historical past, he’ll be the most important by a large margin,” Seidler mentioned this week. “There’s by no means been an everyday shortstop listed above 6-foot-4. Cruz is each little bit of 6-foot-7, which is identical top as Aaron Decide, and three inches taller than Seager, Tatis, and Correa. In order that’s simply utterly uncharted waters. “

Again in 2018, Seidler was bullish on Cruz’s probabilities at navigating the trail to a shortstop job within the majors, partially as a result of he confirmed such a dependable glove and dynamic arm.

“The business expectation when he was in A-ball was that Cruz was going to lose a major vary as he continued to develop, and certainly he is listed 45 kilos heavier than when he signed,” Seidler mentioned. “However he crammed out with out shedding any noticeable vary or agility.”

Transferring him off shortstop means discovering a brand new place. That, as Seidler factors out, is not a stroll within the park.

Being this tall and enjoying * any * place aside from pitcher, first base or designated hitter would depend as historic, however what’s particularly putting is the dearth of tall gamers who’ve made careers on the essential positions in the midst of the diamond: catcher, second base, shortstop and middle discipline. Solely 18 gamers 6-foot-5 or taller have managed even 100 profession video games at these positions since 1920.

It is notable that of these 18, 5 are energetic and two extra have been enjoying prior to now two seasons.

Even Decide has elevated his time on the tougher middle discipline place, enjoying a career-high 31 video games there already this season as he paces the AL MVP race.

A part of the calculus there, as Seidler factors out, springs from advances in defensive positioning that assist groups cowl extra of the sector with much less stellar defenders. It permits them to take care of roster flexibility and enhance their lineups offensively.

Groups have each incentive to play a doubtlessly glorious hitter like Cruz on the most difficult defensive place he can deal with. Particularly proper now – after minor-league experiments within the outfield went poorly – that’s shortstop for Cruz.

“If he is a mean or fringe-average shortstop however worse at third or the outfield,” Seidler mentioned, “it’d make sense to go away him at shortstop even when it is not in a vacuum best to sacrifice shortstop protection.”

Why Oneil Cruz might not be an outlier for lengthy

Maybe no sport has shed inflexible positional labels extra completely than basketball. Whereas Giannis is greater than deserving of his “Greek Freak” nickname, he’s not the NBA’s solely skyscraping star who can deal with the ball and roam the perimeter with all of the fluidity of what we used to name some extent guard.

Positionless basketball does not map completely into the world of baseball. Positions do not dictate matchups or trigger direct bodily benefits in baseball, however the calls for of some spots have restricted expertise swimming pools for generations.

Simply as basketball has disposed with most positional stereotypes and soccer has slowly embraced some much less conventionally sized quarterbacks, baseball is coming into a second the place the final boundaries – round premium positions – may disintegrate.

That is already a sport the place Decide and Jose Altuve can compete for an MVP award. It may quickly be a sport the place they’ll compete for the award and play the identical place.

A whole lot of present star shortstops have overcome questions on their potential to stay. However Cruz is a distinct type of proposition exactly as a result of he cuts such a putting determine. Minor-league ball monitoring numbers, per Seidler, present that he’s able to hitting the ball more durable than any present main leaguer aside from Giancarlo Stanton. He does not sq. it up simply sufficient but to achieve all that energy persistently, however the potential is there.

One other participant with comparable measurements is rising by the Cincinnati Reds group proper now – Elly De La Cruz. A limber 6-foot-5 at simply 20 years previous, De La Cruz has lots of minor-league highlights trying One like Oneil Cruz.

Seidler calls De La Cruz one in every of his favourite prospects, and says he is faster within the discipline, however much less sure-handed than his taller forerunner. The Reds have tried him at third base and second base thus far, however he is nonetheless enjoying the vast majority of his video games at shortstop.

If you happen to’re rooting for extra Giannis-like dynamic range throughout the sector, root even more durable for Cruz to carry his personal. It’s, in any case, the primary actual case research for future freaks, and for De La Cruz.

“It actually will not harm his probabilities,” Seidler mentioned, “if Cruz might be profitable.”

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