Cruz optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis

March 29th, 2022

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The move was expected yet shocking nonetheless.

The Pirates announced following Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Red Sox that they have optioned Oneil Cruz to Triple-A Indianapolis, solidifying the belief that Cruz wouldn't crack the Opening Day roster.

“It was a development decision,” manager Derek Shelton said. “There’s still room for development and still things that we feel he can maximize on.”

Cruz, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, did his part to try to break the team out of camp, going 5-for-15 with two home runs, both of which were a testament to his raw physical tools. The first came on a pitch at his ankles. The second may have caused property damage.

Many believed Cruz, who had a two-game cup of coffee last season, had done enough to earn a starting spot, including Cruz himself.

“I feel like I've demonstrated a lot but I guess I’ve just got to continue demonstrating,” Cruz told reporters last week.

For now, Cruz’s time in Pittsburgh is on hold.

“We feel that he’s going to have a major impact on the Pirates, but right now, we feel like there’s things for him to do moving forward [in Indianapolis] that’s going to help us win games," Shelton said.

The news isn’t unexpected. While Shelton cited development, he did not get into the specifics. When general manager Ben Cherington was asked if Cruz could have the opportunity to be the team’s Opening Day shortstop, Cherington provided a diplomatic answer.

“We’re just excited to see more of him,” Cherington said in mid-March. “We’ll see him play short. I’d expect we’d also see him maybe in some other spots, too. That was something we were planning to do last summer, got interrupted by the injury, but like just about every young player, that’s something we want to do as guys get to the upper levels. We still expect that to happen, but he along with a lot of other infielders here in camp will have an opportunity to compete for playing time and jobs.”

The reaction to the news, both among the fanbase and the baseball world, has been unmistakably negative. The quote tweets to the official announcement on Twitter are filled with disdain. Acknowledging the mostly negative reaction to the news, Shelton said he understands that Pirates fans are excited to see Cruz but reiterated the long-term view.

“The fact that Oneil has been in Spring Training and he’s hit a couple balls hard and hit some homers, I understand their passion and appreciate that,” Shelton said. “I think what we have to make sure that [what] we do is put him in the best position moving forward to help us impact a lot of games, winning a lot of games in Pittsburgh and think about not only the short term but the long term also.”

While Cruz won’t begin the season with the Pirates, it’s very likely that he will have a significant role with the team at some point this season. When that moment arrives, though, has yet to be determined.

“To put a date on it is hard,” Shelton said. “One of the things we did last year was we challenged him on some things, and we rewarded him at the end of the season when he came up to the big leagues. We’re going to challenge him again with some things, and depending on how those things go, that will be the timetable. I definitely think he’ll have an impact on us at some point in 2022.”

With Indianapolis, Cruz will have the opportunity to see time in the outfield as well as shortstop. Cruz was expected to spend time in the outfield last season, but a forearm strain that kept him out of action for nearly two months put those plans on the back burner. This spring, Cruz spent 11 innings in left field, a position that some believe might be his future landing spot.

“We need him to get out in the outfield a little more,” Shelton said. “He has not been out there very much. I think we’re talking about a young player who hasn’t spent a bunch of time over the [Double-A] level. There were some things that we specifically targeted to make sure that we continue to maximize how he’s going to help us.”