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Pirates plan to give Cruz some work in the outfield

05/04/21 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Curve's Oneil Cruz gestures to the Curve dugout after reaching base on an infield single to 1st base in the 6th inning.

There have long been questions about whether prized shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz will start seeing time in the outfield, and that process is going to start getting under way while Cruz is still with the Curve this season.

“It’s not a position change at all,” Curve manager Miguel Perez said Tuesday night.

Instead, the plan for now is to have Cruz work out some in the outfield during batting practice before games and let him get acclimated to being out there. He did so a little bit, Perez said, prior to Tuesday’s game against Harrisburg.

“Oneil is an athlete, and he’s capable to play multiple positions,” Perez said.

Perez said it’s still too early to tell when Cruz might see time in the outfield during a game. For now, he’ll just be working out there before games.

“It’s kind of too early to know, especially the way he has been playing shortstop,” Perez said before adding any move would be “just to create versatility for him and do some extra stuff.”

Cruz is 6-foot-7, and there has never been an everyday major league shortstop that tall.

Again — never.

The Pirates up to this point have remained steadfast in keeping Cruz at shortstop to let him develop at his natural position, but the time has come when the organization wants to start looking at some different possibilities.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington first discussed the outfield acclimation scenario over the weekend.

“I do expect we’re going to see him move around the field a little bit,” Cherington said on a Zoom call. “It’s probably something we want to see done in Double-A and where he’s at now.”

Cruz has been pounding the ball this season for the Curve, batting .305 with eight homers, 26 RBIs and a .918 OPS.

Those are all very impressive offensive numbers for the 22-year-old shortstop, and the big reason why the Pirates are so high on him as a prospect.

But Cruz also has 11 errors while playing 37 games at shortstop. That puts him on pace for about 35 errors over the course of a 120-game minor league season.

Cruz has made numerous highlight-reel plays at shortstop this season, showing impressive range and a terrific arm. But he’s also been errant with a number of his throws, and Tuesday night he committed a costly error that led to three unearned runs when he dropped a catch at second base trying to turn a double play.

Perez said people can interpret Cruz’s 11 errors any way they want to, and he defended the shortstop’s defensive work by saying, “For us, we’ve been here every day for him putting the work in.”

The Pirates have said repeatedly that they’re convinced Cruz can play shortstop in the major leagues, and that still might happen.

“We do want to see him continue to play shortstop, for sure,” Cherington said. “That’s going to continue to be a part of it. The infield will remain a part of it, for sure. I would expect the outfield will come into play.

“When guys get to the upper levels, then part of moving around the field is just an obligation to help them be prepared for the major leagues. I think we almost owe it to players to give them a chance to do it so that they kind of have those tools in their belt, so to speak, in case that comes up.”

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