Marque Matchup: Extended Triple-A Season Gives us Bobby Witt Jr. vs Oneil Cruz
While Triple-A won't be doing a playoffs, we are still getting some extra baseball this season at the highest level of the minor leagues. Instead of a best of five playoff series that the other levels are doing, Triple-A will instead play an additional 10 games over the next two weeks.
To go along with Altoona's season ending and now Indianapolis getting an additional 10 games, the Pirates moved eight players from the Curve's roster up to finish out the season with the Indians.
Among the eight players called up is shortstop Oneil Cruz, not only one of the best prospects in the Pirates system but in all of baseball.
He won't be the only top shortstop prospect in attendance this week, as the Omaha Storm Chasers is home to one of the top players in all of the minor leagues, Bobby Witt Jr.
No. 32 for Bobby Witt Jr. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/dNGlZVbOhm— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 17, 2021
Drafted second overall by the Kansas City Royals, Witt has quickly emerged as one of the best prospects in the game and at just 21-years old has found his way up at Triple-A knocking on the major leagues door.
In what turned out to be his first full season in the minors, Witt is just four stolen bases away from recording a 30-30 season. In 526 plate appearances across Double and Triple-A, the 21-year old Witt has recorded a .292 average to go along with a .953 OPS, logging 32 home runs, 70 extra base hits, also driving in 93 runs and scoring 94 of his own.
Cruz was acquired by the Pirates under Neal Huntington, traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Tony Watson deal. The towering 6'7" left handed hitting Cruz was originally signed for less than a million dollars, has turned himself into on of the better hitting prospects in all of baseball.
🚨🚨 Oneil Cruz takes a ride on The Skyliner Rollercoaster 🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/4kkmU3FSDl— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 10, 2021
The biggest question that surrounds Cruz is where he will play on the diamond. Most believe that despite the progress he has made at the position, he is destined to move away from shortstop. The combination of his elite arm and power bat allows Cruz to project at multiple positions, with obviously the Pirates getting the most value if he is somehow able to stick at short.
Regardless, Cruz will be in the lineup to hit, not win Gold Gloves.
He did miss about two months of the season with a forearm injury, and has been eased back into action at shortstop.
Cruz put up an .882 OPS in nearly half the plate appearances then Witt has gotten this season and a lot of his numbers look like they could be eerily similar had he been able to play the entire year.
Bobby Witt Jr.
When looking at both Cruz and Witt as prospects, there are no shortages of tools setting out in the shed, especially when combining the two. Witt himself is a rare true five-tool player, where almost every outlet rates him as a plus player across the board.
While there are some concerns about Cruz's fielding, he possesses one of the strongest arms in the minors and some of the most raw power as well. Fangraphs rates Cruz's arm a perfect 80, and his raw power rates at a 70/80. Baseball America and MLB Pipeline has hit shower tool both rated as either a plus-plus (70) or plus (60), respectively.
Across three of the major outlets, Fangraphs is the only one to not reward Witt with at least a '60' across the board (30/45 hit tool).
It was awesome to see baseball add the playoffs in the lower levels, and then give Triple-A ten additional games. Not only do players get a few extra at bats and innings in after losing an entire season in 2020, it also gives us a marquee matchup in Witt vs Cruz.
While Indianapolis hasn't always been the most 'must-watch' of the Pirates farm league teams, they've had their moments, this potential matchup certainly gives you plenty of reasons to tune in.