HR leaves all in awe, including prospect who hit it

March 21st, 2022

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- There was no official distance listed for Oneil Cruz’s second home run of Spring Training. There was no exit velocity, no launch angle and no expected batting average. But the blast didn't require numbers. Superlatives sufficed.

Hella loud. Hella hard. Hella far.

“I definitely felt the vibration of it coming off the bat,” Monday’s starting pitcher Zach Thompson said. “I was sitting down, and all of a sudden the shock wave hit me. I was like, ‘Oh, something just happened.’ That was huge. That was probably one of the biggest home runs I’ve seen in a while.”

Cruz’s first home run of Spring Training, which he hit on Saturday, was mind-boggling in its level of difficulty. With a little assistance from the wind, Cruz extended his arms and golfed a pitch that was barely above his ankles over the right-field fence at LECOM Park. Cruz himself was stunned, saying on Monday, “I don’t even know how I hit that.”

The second homer, though, was awe-inspiring in the traditional sense: a moonshot that sailed well over the boardwalk and banged the top of the building beyond the boardwalk.

Along with the homer, Cruz lined a single up the middle that Rays pitcher Calvin Faucher instinctively tried to corral with his pitching hand. There was no exit velocity for that hit either, but appeared to clear triple digits.

Cruz’s afternoon wasn’t quite perfect. The shortstop committed an error on a routine chopper up the middle, dropping the ball on the exchange from glove to hand. Those are the plays Cruz has to regularly make to stick at shortstop. All in all, though, it was another productive and encouraging day, one that strengthened his case for starting shortstop come Opening Day.

As of right now, the likeliest course of action remains for Cruz to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. That’s not for lack of performance; across three levels last season, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect hit .311 with 18 home runs and 19 stolen bases in just 70 games. On Monday, Cruz expressed his belief that he’s shown off the full breadth of his abilities.

“I feel like I’ve demonstrated a lot, but I guess I’ve got to continue demonstrating,” Cruz said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez.

Rodriguez shows off instincts at first base
Endy Rodriguez
has played only 127 1/3 innings at first base during his Minor League career. Most of his time in the field is spent behind the dish. Against the Rays, Rodriguez certainly had the look of a full-time first baseman.

In the bottom of the eighth inning with runners on first and second, Rodriguez snagged a hot liner off the bat of Miles Mastrobuoni, then had the presence of mind to dive and tag Ryan Boldt to complete the double play. Along with the heads-up defensive play, Rodriguez drew a walk in his lone plate appearance. Rodriguez has reached base in each of his last three plate appearances, after homering and drawing a walk on Sunday.

The 21-year-old will likely continue to see time across the diamond this year. Last season, along with his time at catcher and first base, Rodriguez also contributed at all three outfield positions. At Pirate City, Rodriguez was seen taking grounders at second base. With Henry Davis, the No. 24 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, being the organization’s catcher of the future, Rodriguez stands to benefit from possessing positional versatility.

Rodriguez, acquired from the Mets in January 2021 in the three-team trade that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres, was phenomenal at the plate for Low-A Bradenton in his first full season. Across 434 plate appearances, Rodriguez slashed .294/.380/.512 with 15 home runs and a 140 wRC+.

Worth noting
• Cody Bolton, who underwent surgery last April to repair a torn right meniscus, pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts on Monday. Bolton’s last in-game action came on Aug. 15, 2019.

• Quinn Priester, the No. 54 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, threw two scoreless innings in his Spring Training debut. Priester had to escape a bases-loaded jam in the third, but bounced back to retire the side in order in the fourth.

• Nick Gonzales, the No. 20 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, drew a walk on Monday and thus has reached base in three of his four Spring Training games.