Oneil shows off cannon with 96.7 mph throw

June 21st, 2022

PITTSBURGH --  is a Statcast darling. Whenever he steps onto a field, there’s always the possibility that he generates an absurd number that few can rival. In his season debut on Monday, a 12-1 Pirates win, he let it eat and did just that. 

On an evening when he showed off the full breadth of his talents, Cruz recorded an infield assist with a velocity of 96.7 mph. It was the hardest-thrown assist by any infielder this season, and the third-hardest by an infielder since the stat was first recorded in 2015, trailing two throws by Fernando Tatis Jr.

“He fielded it and it came out of his hand, and [bench coach] Donnie [Kelly] and I just looked at each other,” said manager Derek Shelton. “Donnie said the same thing: ‘I can’t imagine anybody’s ever thrown the ball across the infield that hard.’ We were talking about [Manny] Machado. It was impressive. It came out hot.”

Added starting pitcher JT Brubaker, whose fastest fastball on Monday registered at 94.5 mph: “I knew it was hard, I didn't know how hard it was. It's like, ‘You had to do that to me? You had to throw one harder than I threw it off the mound?’ In the moment, it was just like, ‘Wow, that’s a cannon.’ It’s a lively arm.”

For Cruz, this isn’t the first time the Pirates' No. 3 prospect had pitchers joke that he needs to ease up.

“Over there in Triple-A, over in Indy, I would have a few pitchers bring that up to me like Osvaldo Bido and Cristofer Melendez,” Cruz said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “‘Hey man, lower it down a little bit so we don’t look as bad.’”

First baseman Michael Chavis, who was on the receiving end of the throw, likened Cruz to pitchers who can light up the radar gun.

“The way it hangs in the air is a little bit different,” Chavis said. “The same way [with] a guy that's pitching, a guy that throws really hard, it hangs up on it a little more, the ride or whatever you want to call it. It's pretty much the same thing where I thought it was going to go down, and it just hung.”

Chavis’ glove remained firmly intact, but there have been other pieces of leather that haven’t lived to tell the tale. Earlier this year, first base prospect Mason Martin said that Cruz broke not one, but two of his gloves. One instance happened during a game with Double-A Altoona. The other came during a practice that Martin will never forget.

“Everybody on the infield was off that day during warmups,” Martin said. “We were like, ‘We got to pick up the pace. We got to pick up the pace.’ And sure enough, he started just letting them rip. Ball went straight through my glove and into the dugout and bounced off the dugout wall.

“We were all just like, ‘Man, this kid’s special.’”

His arm wasn’t the only tool that he had on display. On the basepaths, Cruz clocked in a sprint speed of 31.5 ft./sec (30 ft./sec is considered elite). In his second plate appearance of the evening, he ripped a bases-clearing double that registered an exit velocity of 112.9 mph. For most, that exit velocity might be their max. For Cruz, that figure probably doesn’t crack his top-10.

When asked if he took more enjoyment in the hit or the throw, Cruz didn’t hesitate.

“The hit was my favorite because I was able to bring in three runs,” Cruz said.

Barring the unforeseen, Cruz will likely have the runway to play out the rest of his season at the Major League level. He’s already setting records through one Major League game into the year. In the coming months, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to one-up himself -- with his bat, with his speed, and with his arm. And if he breaks Statcast in the process? So be it.

“Whatever’s going to get broken is going to get broken," Cruz said with a smile.