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LatinoMVP Rookie award winner Oneil Cruz Staying Loose While Injured

Oneil Cruz, recipient of 2022 National League LatinoMVP Rookie Award - Image Credit: AP

FLUSHING, NY — The Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz is larger than life — ranging out to 6-foot-7” and 215 pounds. Yesterday afternoon at Citi Field, as the Pirates finished up their three-game series against the Mets, Cruz appeared to be having fun and enjoying life on the dugout steps with fans — tossing baseballs to them in the seventh inning of the game. 

The 24-year-old, of Nizao, Dominican Republic, has been out with a fractured ankle since April 9th and has only recorded 32 at-bats this season. The injury occurred as Cruz slid into home plate, making for a nasty collision with White Sox catcher Seby Zavala, which was followed by both benches clearing. 

The Pirates were 6-3 on April 9th when Cruz went on the 60-day IL, and have really struggled without him, going 48-64. In his 32 at-bats prior to the injury, he hit one home run, drove in four runs, stole three bases, and had an OPS of .750. 

To rewind to the start of his career, Cruz made his MLB debut at the end of the 2021 season. He was then called up in 2022 on June 20th against the Chicago Cubs, and went 2-5 with four RBI, making for an instant impact. 

Cruz finished the 2022 season with the following numbers: 17 home runs, 54 RBI, 10 stolen bases, with an OPS of .744 — he played 87 games, compiling 361 at-bats. His efforts got him a sixth-place finish for the NL Rookie of the Year as well as a nomination for the 2022 NL LatinoMVP Rookie of the Year — the oldest and most prestigious award given to Latino baseball players, dating back to 1990. 

Pirates 24-year-old superstar shortstop Oneil Cruz – Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

At one point in June of last season, Cruz said in an interview with The Athletic: “You’re going to see a lot of balls hit hard and a lot of balls traveling very far.”

Two months later, on August 24nd, 2022, he hit the hardest ball in the Statcast ERA with a 122.4 MPH line drive off the right field wall at PNC Park against the Atlanta Braves. 

Cruz can also throw the ball with the best of them. He clocked a throw from the left-side of the infield at 97.8 MPH on July 14th, 2022 against the Miami Marlins. Additionally, in 678 innings at shortstop last season, he saved one run with a total of 17 errors, and had a .953 Fielding Percentage.

On a unique note, Reds rookie shortstop Elly De La Cruz, a superstar in the making, broke Oneil Cruz’s throwing Statcast record and now has several infield assists clocked at 98 MPH or greater. De La Cruz’ fastest throw was 99.8 MPH against the San Francisco Giants on July 20th in a cutoff play from the outfield to throw a runner out at home plate.

De La Cruz is 21-years-old and also Dominican (born in Sabana Grande de Boya, D.R.). Could he follow in Oneil Cruz’s footsteps by winning the 2023 National League LatinoMVP Rookie award? 

Reds 21-year-old superstar Elly De La Cruz – Image Credit: Emma Sharon/Latino Sports

In 60 games this season, De La Cruz has hit 10 home runs, drove in 26 runs, stole 19 bases, and has an OPS of .762 in 247 at-bats. He has compiled 249 innings at shortstop throughout his rookie campaign with four errors, and a Fielding Percentage of .968. All-around, similar numbers to Oneil Cruz… 

More Info on Oneil Cruz, recipient of 2022 NL LatinoMVP Rookie award

Oneil Cruz’s father Rafael named him after Yankees Legend Paul O’Neill. Last season, Cruz met O’Neill at Yankee Stadium over facetime, then was presented a Yankees jersey with the number 21. Cruz returned the favor and sent O’Neill an autographed Pirates jersey.

Cruz shared his thoughts on the interaction: 

“That’s very nice. I’ll keep a spot for it, because who knows where this will be in 20 years, right?”

Cruz has been out for over four months, but a return in September is possible at this point. It was reported last week by Andrew Destin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Cruz was cleared to begin running. He has already started hitting and throwing prior to being cleared for running. It would give the Pirates a nice energy boost if Cruz could make it back this season.

Oneil Cruz – Image Credit: Pittsburgh Pirates/MLB/Twitter

Ultimately, Oneil Cruz is part of an amazing group of young Latino players and it will be great to see how he continues to progress throughout his career! 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Julio

    August 18, 2023 at 1:03 am

    Good article, quite informative.

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