'Now's the time': Pirates call up No. 3 prospect Oneil Cruz

Outfielder Bligh Madris also gets the call

June 20th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- He’s here.

The Pirates called up shortstop Oneil Cruz, the No. 22 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, as well as outfielder Bligh Madris on Monday. Manager Derek Shelton said the moves were coming following Jack Suwinski’s three-homer performance on Father’s Day.

Cruz will bat sixth and play shortstop on Monday vs. the Cubs, with Madris batting seventh and playing right field.

“Now’s the time that we think [Cruz] can help us,” Shelton said. “We’ve talked about a lot of things developmentally. There’s still things we’re going to continue to work on, but we think now’s the time that he’s going to help us.”

There has been speculation that Cruz would be called up at some point during this homestand, but the flames were only further fanned when he was left out of Triple-A Indianapolis’s lineup for its game on Sunday. General manager Ben Cherington, when asked of Cruz’s omission on his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan, said with a laugh, “Guys get days off from time to time.”

For many in Pittsburgh, this moment couldn’t have come soon enough.

Fans expressed just about universal frustration when Cruz was snubbed from the Opening Day roster. The 23-year-old tore through the Minors last season and was rewarded with his first Major League callup, where he teased the talent that made him an intriguing prospect. In his brief Spring Training this year, he hit a pair of home runs that were testaments to his raw, awe-inspiring power.

Cruz started slow with Triple-A Indianapolis. In April, he hit just .176 with one home run. Since then, Cruz is slashing .265/.367/.500 with eight home runs and 130 wRC+, not including his lone pinch-hit appearance on Sunday, all while producing exit velocities that only a handful of humans can attain. Cruz has made some cameos out in left field, but Shelton confirmed that Cruz will predominantly play shortstop with the Pirates.

Someone far more familiar with the outfield is Madris, who has been on an absolute tear over the last several weeks. Like Cruz, Madris started slow, hitting just .200 in April. Madris began to heat up in May, but once the calendar flipped to June, he elevated to another level. In 16 games this month, Madris has been slashing .400/.463/.683 with two home runs and nine doubles. Now, he and Cruz are with the big league club.

“He’s done a lot of things well,” Shelton said. “If you look back, even coming out of Spring Training, if we would have been in a different spot, he might have made our club then. He’s been really good over the last month.

“He can play both corner outfield spots. He’s continued to do a lot of things well, and it’s at the time where he deserves to be called up. So I think it’s a culmination of where he was in Spring Training and then what he’s done over the last three weeks.”

Cruz and Madris’ arrivals come at a time when the team, and the offense, specifically, could use a spark. Even with Suwinski’s heroics on Sunday, the Pirates have lost 11 of their last 13 games. Cruz, who’s arguably the most dynamic power-speed threat of any current prospect, can certainly help jumpstart a lethargic offense.

Cruz’s callup was always a matter of when, not if. There was too much talent, too much potential for him to spend an entire season in Triple-A. On Sunday, the question of his arrival date was finally answered. On Monday, he’ll be at PNC Park, donning the black and gold. Cruz is here. He’ll have his runway. It’s finally time to see what he’s got in his bag of tricks.