By Jason Shetler
The 2017 MLB trade deadline came and went, with the Pirates making a pair of trades, one of them surprisingly not involving Juan Nicasio. As expected, the Pirates were sellers with Tony Watson, as he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for infielder Oneil Cruz and pitcher Angel German. After reportedly wanting to obtain a controllable reliever, they did the complete opposite, by acquiring a rental arm in Joaquin Benoit from the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Seth McGarry. Although the Phillies are taking on a good chunk of Benoit’s remaining salary, the point is that the Pirates went after a reliever for rent when it wasn’t necessary.
Going back to the Tony Watson deal, it was a trade that the Pirates had to make, with Watson becoming a free agent after the season, in addition to the division and wild card not being a sure thing this year. Oneil Cruz and Angel German are both currently in A ball, so both are quite a ways away from reaching the big leagues. While German has some upside, the Watson trade, and this deadline for the Pirates in general, is really going to hinge on Cruz.
The Dodgers signed Cruz in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic for a very good signing bonus of $950,000. He is listed at 6’6, 175 lbs. Cruz plays both shortstop and third base, and will likely play more the latter, once his body starts to fill out. He has the potential to hit for power, while displaying above average speed on the bases. Combined with athleticism and arm strength, Cruz could become a solid defender.
Prior to the trade, MLB Pipeline ranked Cruz as the 21st best prospect in the Dodgers organization. Now in the Pirates system, MLBP ranks him 16th. Cruz has struggled this season in his first full year for Low A Great Lakes, posting just a .635 OPS. However, he is playing the level as an 18-year-old, which is very young, so there’s still plenty of time for him to develop his offensive game. If he’s able to make the proper adjustments, Cruz could turn out to be a top-tier prospect, and really make the Watson deal worthwhile.