by Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
You never forget the first time you see it Anil Cruz Personally.
You’re obviously ready to see a tall person. But seeing a brown baseball player like Mike Tevey after stretching from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” wearing baseball shorts in a dugout, not running on the NBA field, is pretty upsetting. The pirates A short rookie isn’t just tall; It’s tall, with levers that extend forever like “Mrs. Incredible.”
“I remember seeing him at spring training for ’21 and thought, ‘Wow, that’s a tall pitcher,'” said Pirates River. Chase de Jong For FOX Sports. He didn’t show up to stretch, and I was like, ‘Where did that lightning bolt go to a guy? Then someone told me he was a short guy, and I heard him take BP, and he was instantly like, ‘Wow.
“The first time I saw him in person was spring 2020 training,” Pirates team manager Derek Shelton told FOX Sports. He walks into the field, and Jarrod Dyson shouts, ‘What is Kevin Durant doing here? “
At 6-foot-7, Cruz is already the longest daily pit stop in baseball history. Had he been born in the Bronx or Paris or Buenos Aires, Cruz would have been a junior striker for the Toronto Raptors or something. But by the force of circumstances, the 23-year-old skyscraper from Nizao, Dominican Republic, plays baseball.
And he’s very good at it.
“There is one thing we learned about basketball players,” Shelton explained. “As long as I have their arms, if you watch them go out and hit the BP, it’s never going to be smooth. And with Oneil, it’s always been smooth.”
On Sunday at Citifield, he heated up a 99-mph heater from Best Pitcher On Earth™ Jacob Degrom For a game-related triple-range bomb, leaving Cy Young’s two-time winner’s mouth in utter disbelief on the hill. The previous week, also against metslaunched a torpedo blast of 113 mph and 422 feet into the Allegheny River, away from the Redeemer Tommy Hunter. Earlier this season, he hit two last year’s NL Cy Young award winners, Corbin Burns, And one against this year’s potential winner, Sandy Alcantara.
Since his call-up to the MLB in late June, the phenomenon prophetically named Paul O’Neill has thrilled teammates, opponents and fans with his phenomenal talent. Many claim that Cruz may be the most naturally gifted baseball player of all time.
Back in July, he shot 97.8 mph from a short point to first base, the hardest throw a player has ever scored.
And on August 24th against Atlanta Kyle WrightCruz fracture Giancarlo Stanton Record hardest hit baseball of the Statcast era (and likely ever) by smashing a 122.4 mph laser beam off the right field wall in PNC Park.
He’s somehow the eleventh fastest player in baseball. Cruz is a bodied specimen, a rhinoceros unlike anything we’ve seen in the sport, a man capable of doing amazing feats every night. This natural ability needs some regulation, no doubt, but over time, Cruz can develop very well into the hottest, most controlling player in the game.
Basically, it’s baseball Giannis.
For those first few years in Milwaukee, Giannis Antikonmo He was an inexperienced supernova of potential who understandably struggled with some of the finer points in basketball. Through hard work, quality training, maturity and patience, the Greek Freak has blossomed into the most exciting personality in the NBA.
Cruz hopes to do the same.
“That’s a great compliment.” Cruz told FOX Sports through an interpreter after hearing this comparison, that his face lights up with an enormous smile that extends from ear to ear. “This guy is the ultimate basketball animal.”
Admittedly, the young man had a lot of ways to go before he even smelled Giannis’ level of success. Monday night, cruise bypass Joey Gallo For the highest write-off rate in MLB (38.79% to 38.77%). He has sniffed 116 times in his 299 games this year. The record for starters prone to strike isn’t great.
Of 19 other first-year hitters in the Wild Card Era to post a K-rate of over 35% (minimum 200 PA), only three have unequivocal hits (Austin RileyAnd the Byron Buxton And the Javier Baez). The rest was put out (Tyler Austin, Mike Ault, Evan White(or held in positions as capable but unreliable players)Jorge AlfaroKeon Brookston Miguel Sano).
However, despite his astronomical hit rate, Cruz is still an above-average hitter this season. As of Tuesday morning, he had 17 home runs and 102 OPS+ in those 299 plates. So far in September, his strike rate is a damned 42%, he’s been one of the top hitters in the league, with a 0.961 OPS.
“It sounds primitive, but I think he’s learned this year that swinging the strokes is really important.” Shelton said. “In the palace, he can stretch out his long arms and put everything in play. Here you can’t do that. But if he sways and makes a hit, he’ll fly off the bat.”
Cruz’s ability to keep his head above water in the face of this season’s big-league bet is nothing short of a victory given he is still learning how to take advantage of his unique structure. When Dodgers He signed him as a 16-year-old outside the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2015, at just 6-1. But it continued to grow.
“I had to get new clothes right away.” Cruz remembers. “There was a point where I averaged, say, an inch or two a year. My family just ended up buying a lot of clothes that were way too big because they knew I was going to keep growing and developing eventually. It was true.”
When it first appeared in Angels In the Dominican Summer League in 2016, Cruz was within 6-4. A year later, when he was traded to Pittsburgh as Tony Watson’s savior, he was two inches tall. Now he’s 6-7, he pushes 6-8. And while he may have finished slowly climbing into the sky, comfort with his height and height is an important part of Cruz’s development as a hitter.
The Mets fisherman, who gave up on the blast of a river-bound Scud missile on a cruise earlier this month, echoed the same sentiment when asked about the Pittsburgh slugger.
“It’s scary. He’s only 23 and he’s still coming in on his own. As big as he is, as long as he is, how much torque he can make, it’s just so explosive. This is a special talent.”
And this run home?
“I needed a neck brace or some muscle relaxer, how quickly I had to turn my head to watch it move.” The fisherman joked.
When asked about his amazing natural abilities, Cruz was understandably shy, quick to distract himself and toward what his accomplishments meant to the team. He claims he’s not playing his new exit speed record either because “there are so many good talents to come out that you just know there will always be someone doing something bigger and better.” His primary goal, he says, is to help the once-great Pittsburgh franchise return to post-season glory.
But humility only goes so far when you can hit a baseball harder than anyone else in human history. Cruise talents and highlighting reels speak for themselves. His burgeoning stardom was on display at Citifield last week, as young fans demanded autographs and photos of the towering footballer who is only a few years older than them.
The gap between what Oneil Cruz is currently and what Oneil Cruz may one day become is greater than any other major player. Traversing this valley requires time, patience, support, initiative, confidence and self-belief. It’s a development gap that Cruz cut before; Perhaps the gap between 16-year-old O’Neal and current O’Neal is even greater.
There’s a good chance Cruz never reaches his full potential and settles into a career as an attacking spotlight machine. But if he gets anywhere close, Cruz will become the kind of player you buy tickets to see. The kind of player you tell your grandchildren to see in person. The type of player whose super sports feats spread to the front pages of websites across the country.
Baseball’s answer to Giannis.
Jake Mintz, the top half of @CespedesBBQ, He is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is a fan of Orioles and lives in New York City, and as such leads a secluded life in most October residents. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake Mintz.
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