We’re going to be talking about this team until the very last pitch. That is extremely exciting for me as a diehard Bucco fan. This series vs the Cubs was extremely significant for Pirates fans in so many ways. Oneil Cruz is the man we’ve been waiting for all year and he finally made his season debut on Monday. He excelled in every facet of the game that it’s so refreshing to finally be at the next steps of the rebuild.
Everyone hates the term “rebuild” but the fact of the matter is that this is where the Pirates currently are and were when Ben Cherington took over as GM for Neil Huntington. In years 1 and 2, they tore down the team, sold off what pieces they had from the Huntington era, and lost as many games as possible. Now in year 3, they have to show growth. On the field with getting some young players on the MLB roster, and within the organization showing confidence in the future. This year, they showed that in bunches. They signed Ke’Bryan Hayes to a 8 year 70 million dollar contract and in the soon after, came to terms with Bryan Reynolds for the next 2 years at 6.75 to avoid arbitration. To me, those 2 deals signify they see what most of the core Bucco fans see in this process.
This year, several AAA and AA guys have played at the major league level. Sure we see the starts of recycled veterans like Yu Chang and Josh VanMeter. In the same vain, we saw Jack Suwinski and Tucupita Marcano skip AAA entirely. We’ve seen Cal Mitchell and Canaan Smith-Njigba make their debuts from AAA and impress us. Not to mention the electric arm of Roansy Contreras who has some of the nastiest stuff I’ve seen in a Pirates uniform who we also got to see again in this past home series.
Monday night though was one of the most important nights in my life as a Pirates fan since 2015. Oneil Cruz making his season debut and THRIVING in ways this city has not seen since the debut of Andrew McCutchen, was something to behold. All year, Pirates fans have been sitting there and waiting for him to get ABs but instead had to suffer through Chang and VanMeter. It just didn’t seem right for the Buccos to keep Cruz down in AAA until the Super 2 deadline past.
After going Monday night and watching this 4 game series vs the Cubs, the entire process that being in 2019 felt worth it. As you know already, Monday was when Cruz showed off his bat by going 2-4 with 4 RBIs.
His bases clearing double had an exit velocity of 112.9 mph. On a sac fly, he scored from 3rd and was registered at a sprint speed of 31.5 feet/second. That’s faster than some of the fastest guys in MLB like Trea Turner. He finished the series going 4-18 (.222 avg) but had 7 RBIs and a SB. If you watched his ABs like I did though, opposing pitchers respected his hitting abilities as he saw a ton of secondary stuff as opposed to fastballs.
On defense, he showed how imposing he can be in more ways than one. His stature of 6’7” is something to behold as that’s never been seen by anyone at the shortstop position. Cruz’s first putout on Monday was registered at 96.7 mph. That’s what pitchers throw AND was the fastest putout at his position this year. He even made this diving stop yesterday which just cannot be easy for someone of his size.
Yeah the Pirates won 3/4 vs the Cubs including yesterday where they battled late after giving up the lead. Thanks to Michael Chavis having that dog in him, they were able to erase a blown lead. The overall point about this series is two-pronged:
- The Pirates just made this team relevant for the rest of the year when we know they probably will not be sniffing playoffs. A young and hungry team with zero expectations is fun to watch. That is what it feels like to play poker with house money.
- Expectations have now risen as year 4 of the rebuild is one of the simplest steps. Bob Nutting has to buy the casual fans back by building around this new core in free agency. Time will tell here so we will play the waiting game.
Until then, let’s just enjoy the blossoming superstar in Oneil Cruz along with the rest of these young and hungry Pittsburgh Pirates.