Bucs want Cruz to be in 'best possible position' when called up

Cherington discusses trade rumors and heading into arbitration with Reynolds

April 4th, 2022

BRADENTON, Fla -- With this year’s abbreviated Spring Training, there were many decisions to be made in a short amount of time. Perhaps the one that made the biggest waves in Pirates camp this week was Tuesday’s decision to option Oneil Cruz, the club’s No. 3 prospect, to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The buzz has been steadily building around MLB's No. 26 prospect, his plus-plus arm strength and his success in the big leagues following his Oct. 2, 2021, debut. Manager Derek Shelton called the decision to send down Cruz a "development opportunity." General manager Ben Cherington reiterated that on Monday, noting that the club did not want to rush the 6-foot-7 phenom.

"I think there are a few things," Cherington said Monday before the Pirates beat the O's, 9-3, at Ed Smith Stadium. "One is simply just that he has not played above Double-A much at all. And so ... there's just less we know about him as a player above the Double-A level, and there's some value, we believe, in getting a little bit more competition at Triple-A."

While it's no secret that Cruz can spray the ball all over the field -- he hit .333 with two homers in five spring games -- the competition Cherington referred to includes a defensive progression at shortstop at the Triple-A level, where Cruz has spent just six games.

"[We] just want to put him in the best possible position, defensively, to come up and be a regular player somewhere on the field," Cherington said "[We] felt like a little bit more time on that was going to be helpful for him."

The conversation with Cruz was a tough one to have, Cherington admitted. But the way the 23-year-old left the meeting continued the narrative he's built around himself as a grounded, focused athlete whose age doesn't dictate his actions.

"[Shelton] and I were anxious going into it because of the effort that Oneil has put in, and because of the maturity we've seen over the last year, and the growth and how seriously he's taken that," Cherington said. "He immediately left the conversation and Hector Morales [the club’s director of international development] and John Baker [the Pirates’ director of coaching and player development] were outside in the hallway at LECOM ... and he immediately found them and said, ‘I'll be at Pirate City in the morning,’ so I thought he handled it exceptionally well, and he'll get a chance to start a season here very soon in Indy.”

When Cruz will have an opportunity to start a season in Pittsburgh is anybody's guess, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on his performance in Indy, as it could be directly related to his (re)arrival with the Pirates.

Reynolds rumors are just that ...
The Pirates are headed to arbitration with Bryan Reynolds -- a sore spot with fans, who figured their beloved outfielder might have deserved better. Cherington said the way things played out wasn't intentional, but that perhaps both sides just fell victim to this year's abbreviated Spring Training.

“Maybe the shorter negotiation period that we all had impacted it in some way; it's hard to say," Cherington said. "But we'd always prefer to settle.

“We're obviously thankful that he's a Pirate and respect him really highly as a player and as a person, and we'll figure out the contract however we need to figure it out. And we'll enjoy watching him out there in a Pirates uniform.”

Rumors have since circulated about the Pirates being in talks with the Padres regarding a potential trade involving Reynolds, but Cherington was quick to point out that the phone only worked one way, reiterating that Pittsburgh is committed to coming to terms with Reynolds.

“Bryan’s a really good player, and he's young and we're not winning yet," Cherington said. "You combine all those things and of course, that means teams are going to call, and so teams call, and those calls are incoming calls. They’re not outgoing calls. And I just tell Bryan the same thing.

"We have to prepare for that every once in a while. Because those teams are going to call, someone's going to get some information somehow from that, and it's going to be out there in the world for people to read about.”