Cruz has started 10 games at shortstop as opposed to only one in left field with Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the season. When the Pirates optioned Cruz to the minors to start the season, part of the stated reason was to get him reps in the outfield. While he did start one of his first five games in left field, Cruz has played exclusively at shortstop since. It's unclear what that may mean for his defensive home in the long term, but it suggests that he will play in the infield upon his promotion to the majors this season. It's also uncertain when Cruz may return to Pittsburgh, as he has hit only .175/.283/.275 across 46 plate appearances with Indianapolis.
Cruz started in left field for Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. As part of their decision to send Cruz to Triple-A to begin the season, Pirates management stated that they wanted the prospect to get experience in the outfield. However, through five games with Indianapolis, Cruz has appeared at shortstop four times as opposed to the outfield only once. However, he looked quite accustomed to left field when he made a sliding catch in the top of the seventh inning to save a likely extra-base hit while fieldng the position Sunday. It's not clear when Cruz may get the call to Pittsburgh, though he's maintained a .381 on-base percentage with one extra-base hit across 21 plate appearances in Indianapolis.
The Pirates optioned Cruz to Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday. Cruz made a brief, two-game MLB debut last October, and it's not hard to argue he's one of the Pirates' 26 best players already despite his inexperience, but the team will choose to prioritize delaying his free agency by a year. The new collective bargaining agreement allows players who finish in the top two in their league's Rookie of the Year voting to gain a full year of service regardless of how much time they spend on the major-league roster, so the Pirates are now heavily incentivized to keep him in the minors long enough to make sure that doesn't happen. In the Pirates' defense, Cruz has only played six Triple-A games, but it's not as if the team has compelling options to start over him. Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker should earn most of the at-bats at shortstop until Cruz returns.
Despite his hot start this spring, Cruz may still open the year at Triple-A, according to the Associated Press. "There's still development to be had there," manager Derek Shelton said. "Oneil is going to have an impact on our club this year at some point. When that is, I don't think any of us know." Cruz has already hit two impressive home runs in spring training and he has zero strikeouts or walks through two games. According to the report, both Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington have said they want Cruz to get experience playing the outfield, and it would make more sense for him to get those reps at Triple-A. For his part, Cruz is adamant that he's a shortstop. "I feel like I've demonstrated a lot," Cruz said, "but I guess I've just got to continue demonstrating." Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker are the other competitors for the starting spot at shortstop. While the team is pumping the brakes on the idea of Cruz breaking camp in the majors, he could probably force its hand if he continues to dominate at the plate.
Cruz went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Reds. Cruz swatted a 408-foot shot in the ninth inning of Sunday's loss for his first MLB long ball. The 6-foot-7 rookie went 3-for-9 with three RBI in his quick two-game taste of big-league action this season.
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