Column | The Pirates should not wait to extend Oneil Cruz


AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz hits a solo home run during Monday’s game against Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

Shortstop Oneil Cruz is well on his way to becoming the most popular Pirate since Andrew McCutchen.

Like McCutchen once did, Cruz is quickly opening eyes on a national scale. 

The 6-foot-7 prospect made his long-awaited 2022 debut last week and it didn’t take long for him to break the internet. In his first game, Cruz registered the fastest throw from any major league infielder this season. His first hit of the season was a bases-clearing double – and the hardest hit ball by any Pirate this year. Oh, and he has the speed of NFL superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill

The No. 21 prospect in baseball followed up his debut with another big performance, becoming the first Pirates player since 1934 to tally an RBI in each of his first four games on the very next night. 

That streak ended at six games – tied for the second most consecutive games with an RBI to begin a career. 

Cruz feels like something out of a video game. 

Pirates outfielder Cal Mitchell compares him to Kevin Durant.

“[He’s] what happens when Kevin Durant was born in the Dominican and decided to be a baseball player,” Mitchell said

It’s early in his career, but the Pirates need to do everything they can to extend Cruz as soon as possible. For those who want to see more from Cruz before extending him, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Rays shortstop Wander Franco inked an 11-year, $182 million deal in the offseason after playing in just 70 games last season. 

Braves superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. signed an eight-year, $100 million deal with less than a full year of service time. The White Sox locked Luis Robert down before he even reached the Major League level – signing him for six years and $50 million

Cruz’s ceiling is among the highest in the game and everybody within the organization knows it. 

Pirates star third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes said Cruz has all the tools to become one of the best players in the league. 

“For him, the sky’s the limit,” Hayes said. “To me, he’s one of those guys like Soto, Tatis. He has that in him.”

The Pirates front office knows it too. That’s why they blatantly manipulated his service time and kept him in Triple-A to gain another year of team control. But that’s a different story for a different day. 

While the Pirates are often the butt of jokes about trading players away, they have shown commitment to giving out extensions in the past.

Most recently, extending Hayes to an eight-year, $70 million contract in April – the largest contract the organization has ever dealt out. 

The Pirates have also extended the contracts of McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco among others. 

Cruz is the type of player that fans make sure to watch every time he comes up to bat.

For the first time in a long time, the Pirates are receiving nationwide attention, and that’s thanks to Cruz. The MLB’s official Twitter account has sent more tweets about Cruz in the past week than there have been tweets about the Pirates all season. 

Following Cruz’s first home run of the season, SportsCenter, MLB and various national baseball outlets posted the highlight. It wasn’t the first time Cruz trended on social media so far this season, and it certainly won’t be the last. 

The baseball world can’t get enough of Cruz. Nobody wants to miss what he does next. He’s the very definition of a human highlight reel. 

No.15 jerseys are about to become real popular in Pittsburgh.

More than anything though, he’s an extremely rare talent who the organization needs to prioritize because he has the tools to become a superstar. He’s a franchise-altering type of talent, and if he reaches – or comes anywhere close to reaching – his ceiling, the Pirates have a real pathway to become a winning ball club. 

Extending Cruz after locking down a franchise cornerstone in Hayes would go a long way in showing fans that the front office wants to take that next step towards that. 

Maybe he pans out, maybe he doesn’t – we won’t know for a while. But the Pirates would be wise in betting on the sky high potential with the highly marketable short stop.