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Oneil Cruz is the first 6-foot-7 shortstop you’ve ever seen. He might not be the last

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When the Pittsburgh Pirates were called to the team by top prospect Oneil Cruz this week, those who tried to explain the excitement around him had to look elsewhere for comparisons. Giannis Antetokounmpo in baseball. Aaron Judge growing at the speed of Tyreke Hill.

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Anyone who was really convinced to turn on the Pirates game needed no further analogies. The thrill of Cruise’s potential was here, pure visual stimulus.

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You see, Cruz is 6ft 7in and plays as a shortstop. And he’s not a novelty or a minor player with a cool quirk. Until Tuesday, when Pittsburgh finally ended its particularly nasty pitching-time manipulation campaign, he was one of the most interesting players left in the minor leagues. Entering the season Baseball Prospectus ranked him 12th in the sport.

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In his first game of 2022 (he made his one-game MLB debut at the end of 2021), Cruz threw the ball harder than any MLB infielder this season, ran faster than any Pirate this season, and hit the ball harder than any pirate this season.

Just by starting the game, Cruz became the tallest player in MLB history. And he needed those devastating, comparison-defying abilities that so rarely mix in the same body to turn the prevailing question “Why? to “Why not?”

But while it was once hot to think Cruz would stay shortstop long enough to sniff the big players, he could quickly go from an anomaly to a trendsetter. If he maintains traction in one of baseball’s most demanding and legendary positions, his arrival could be a milestone for the unicorns, who are conquering positional tropes and preconceived notions of yet another sport.

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz prepares to play on the field.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz prepares to play on the field. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Oneil Cruz is the tallest shortstop in MLB…by a mile

Being 6ft 7in tall and playing shortstop is completely unheard of.

Only six players 6’5″ and taller, including Cruz, have ever appeared in an MLB game as a shortstop for any amount of time. Only two have ever played more than 10 games there in a season – Archie Cianfrocco, who mostly played first base for the San Diego Padres in the 90s, and Mike Morse, who appeared as a shortstop but left quickly. to the far side of the field.

The tallest players who made a real career at six holes were 6 feet 4 inches tall. This breed of quarterback-bodied shortstop started with Cal Ripken Jr. and has grown a bit in recent years with Corey Seeger and Carlos Correa. Cruz, who weighs 220 pounds, has a lean, lanky build akin to Fernando Tatis Jr., who is 6ft 3in.

When Cruz was even younger and even more awkward, baseball avenue Jarrett Seidler was in a group of scouts trying to predict their future. Understandably, it was difficult to see what it would look like in major tournaments.

“It’s worth noting that Cruz won’t just be the biggest regular shortstop in MLB history, he’s going to be the biggest by a wide margin,” Seidler said this week. “Never been on the list of regular shortstops taller than 6 feet 4 inches. Cruz is 6’7″, which is the same height as Aaron Judge and three inches taller than Seeger, Tatis and Correa. So it’s just completely uncharted waters.”

Back in 2018, Seidler was bullish about Cruz’s chances of landing a shortstop job at big companies, in part because he’s shown such a secure glove and dynamic hand.

“At the time he was in A-ball, the industry expected Cruz to lose significant range as he continued to grow, and indeed, he was 45 pounds heavier than when he signed,” Seidler said. “But it filled up without losing noticeable range or agility.”

Moving it off the shortstop means finding a new position. This, Seidler points out, is not a walk in the park.

Being that tall and playing *any* position other than pitcher, first base or designated hitter might be considered historical, but what’s particularly striking is the paucity of tall players who have made their careers in key positions in the center of the diamond: Catcher, second base , short stop and midfield. Only 18 players 6’5″ or taller have played at least 100 career games in these positions since 1920.

It is noteworthy that of these 18, five active and two more played in the last two seasons.

Even Judge has extended his time in the tougher center field position, playing 31 games there already this season as he enters the AL MVP race.

Part of the calculation here, Seidler points out, comes from advances in defensive positioning that help teams cover more of the field with less-than-stellar defenders. This allows them to maintain squad flexibility and improve their offensive lineups.

Teams have every incentive to play with a potentially great striker like Cruz in the toughest defensive position he can handle. Especially now — after the minor league experiments in the outfield went badly — it’s a shortstop for Cruz.

“If he’s a middle or secondary shortstop but worse in third or outfield,” Seidler said, “maybe it makes sense to keep him as a shortstop, even if he’s not in a vacuum ideally sacrificing a shortstop.”

Why Oneil Cruz can’t stay away for long

Perhaps no other sport has more thoroughly eliminated rigid positional labels than basketball. While Giannis more than deserves his nickname of the “Greek Freak,” he’s not the only NBA star who can handle the ball and move around the perimeter with all the fluidity of what we’d call a point guard.

Positionless basketball doesn’t fit perfectly into the world of baseball. Positions do not dictate matchups or provide a direct physical advantage in baseball, but the requirements of some locations limit the talent pool for generations.

Just as basketball has ditched most positional stereotypes and football has gradually embraced some smaller-sized quarterbacks, baseball is entering a point where the last barriers around premium positions may be breaking down.

This is already a sport in which the referee and José Altuve can compete for the MVP award. It may soon become a sport where they can compete for an award and play in the same position.

Many current shortstop stars have overcome questions about their ability to stick. But Cruz is a very different proposition precisely because he makes such a strong impression. According to Seidler, minor league ball tracking figures indicate that he is capable of hitting the ball harder than any current major league player other than Giancarlo Stanton. He’s not stable enough yet to consistently reach all that strength, but the potential is there.

Another player of comparable size is now growing in the Cincinnati Reds organization – Ellie De La Cruz. Flexible 6ft 5in at just 20 years old, From the cross you have a lot of minor league highlights looks… like Oneil Cruz.

Seidler cites De La Cruz as one of his favorite prospects and says he is faster on the field but less confident than his taller predecessor. The Reds have tried him at third base and second base so far, but he still plays in most of his shortstop games.

If you’re rooting for Giannis-style dynamic diversity, root for Cruz even more so he doesn’t back down. After all, this is the first real example for future freaks and for De La Cruz.

“It certainly won’t affect his chances,” Seidler said, “if Cruz is successful.”


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