Cruz Control

Breaking down the best hitting performances from yesterday's games.

Oneil Cruz (PIT): 2-5, 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI.

The Pirates finally did it. After months of speculation about when they’d finally make the move, Pittsburgh called up Oneil Cruz and he made his season debut at PNC Park last night.

Cruz burst onto the scene quickly, finishing with a 2-5, 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI line, and a 112.9 mph double – one of the hardest-hit balls of the day. It’s almost like he was trying to say, “Why didn’t you call me up sooner!? I WAS READY!!!”

Luckily for Cruz, the Pirates welcomed the Cubs to town for a four-game set on Monday, and he couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to make his debut against. Since the start of June, the Cubs pitching staff has an MLB-worst 6.79 ERA. That trend continued Monday night, as the Pirates won in a 12-1 blowout.

Fans should start getting used to seeing performances like Monday’s from Cruz. FanGraphs prospect rankings have Cruz as the best in Pittsburgh’s system and the seventh-best in the entire league.

Cruz is an incredible athlete. At 6′ 7″ tall and weighing in at 220 pounds, it’s remarkable that he has the speed and skill to play shortstop, but whether he sticks at the position isn’t a sure thing. What is a sure thing, though, is the pop in his bat. He grades out as an elite power hitter and could easily reach 30+ home runs in a full slate of MLB action.

In Cruz’s 55 games at Triple-A Indianapolis, he posted a .232/.336/.422 slash line with nine home runs and 11 stolen bases. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up similar numbers as the Pirates’ everyday shortstop the rest of the way, and there’s certainly room for continued growth. The potential here is enormous.

If you need middle infield help, I’d absolutely grab Cruz if he’s still available in your league. His high prospect pedigree and lightning-fast start have seen him already rostered in 50% of Yahoo! leagues, but if you play on ESPN there’s a good chance he’s still available – he was rostered in just 15% of ESPN leagues as of Monday night.

The Pirates will certainly be a better team with Cruz in their lineup every day, and your fantasy team probably will be too.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:

Andrew Vaughn (CWS): 4-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.

Vaughn had a perfect day at the plate against José Berríos and the Blue Jays yesterday, collecting four hits in the White Sox 8-7 victory. He’s been one of the best stories of the season, as he’s breaking out to the tune of a .330/.381/.505 slash line, good for a 156 wRC+ and .384 wOBA. The only real knocks on Vaughn’s strong campaign are that it’s coming on the back of an inflated .363 BABIP and there’s been a notable lack of power. Vaughn has just six home runs, and his barrel rate has fallen to 6% after last year’s 10.9% mark. Those complaints are admittedly very nitpicky, and the White Sox will happily keep plugging him into the two-hole as long as he keeps producing at this extraordinary level.

Daniel Vogelbach (PIT): 2-4, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB.

Scoring 12 runs is a surefire way to get a handful of players mentioned in a Batter’s Box article, and Vogelbach is just one of three Pirates to be featured today. He stuffed the stat sheet Monday, reaching base three times, and scorching the ball three times, even though one of those didn’t land for a hit. Vogelbach’s big day raised his season-long numbers to .217/.299/.410 with eight home runs and a 98 wRC+. Those numbers are good enough to play in Pittsburgh, but not from your first baseman or DH in most fantasy leagues.

Andrew Benintendi (KC): 2-4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB.

Benintendi collected the day’s only combo meal, homering off of Noah Syndergaard in the first before swiping a bag in the eighth inning of the Royals’ 6-2 win over the Angels. The home run and steal were Benintendi’s third and first of the season, respectively. After collecting 17 long balls and eight steals in 2021, this year’s minuscule totals have been pretty disappointing. On the plus side, his .363 OBP and career-best 14.7% strikeout rate do make him intriguing in OBP or points leagues. If he can start raising his 4.9% barrel rate up towards last year’s 8.9% mark, some of that power production could return.

Bligh Madris (PIT): 3-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, SB.

His debut was overshadowed by Cruz’s promotion, but Madris did all he could to be noticed in his first chance at MLB action. The 26-year-old former ninth-round pick was crushing the ball at Triple-A, posting a .904 OPS. His stolen base may catch your eye, but I think it’s more of a blip on the radar than something to expect going forward. He had just 12 stolen bases across five seasons in the minor leagues.

Luis Robert (CWS): 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI.

In the third inning last night, Robert crushed a Berrios sinker 436 feet at 113.3 mph – the second-hardest and furthest hit ball of the day. Robert’s big home run raised his batting line to .298/.332/.428 with seven home runs and nine steals. It says a lot about just how high expectations are for the White Sox young phenom that those numbers are viewed as a disappointment. Although Robert’s strikeout rate is a career-best 17.7%,  his flyball, pull, and barrel rates have all decreased, leading his slugging percentage to tumble from .567 in 2021 to .428 this year.

Jarren Duran (BOS): 2-3, 2B, 2 R, BB, 2 SB.

Duran played a big role in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Tigers yesterday, collecting an extra-base hit and stealing his first two bases of the season. Boston’s 25-year-old centerfielder struggled mightily in his 112 plate appearance MLB debut in 2021, leading the Red Sox to start him in Triple-A this year. That move seems to have paid off, as Duran looks much more prepared for big-league pitching since his call-up, albeit in a small sample size. In his first 33 plate appearances of the season, Duran has a 157 wRC+, literally three times higher than his 49 wRC+ from last year.

Tyrone Taylor (MIL): 1-3, HR, R, 2 RBI.

The Brewers won a huge game against the division-rival Cardinals last night, putting them in sole possession of first place in the NL Central. Taylor plated the game’s only two runs via a fifth-inning blast off of Miles Mikolas. That long ball moved Taylor’s season batting line to .227/.273/.420. He’ll be the main benefactor of the Lorenzo Cain DFA and should start most days in centerfield. Unfortunately, until he starts producing more at the plate, he’ll stay anchored in the bottom third of Milwaukee’s batting order.

Brandon Nimmo (NYM): 3-5, 2B, 2 R.

The Mets topped the Marlins 6-0 in Monday’s lone matinee as Nimmo continued another strong on-base campaign. After reaching base three times yesterday, Nimmo’s OBP is up to .364 which is a top-30 mark in baseball, but that and decent run production is about all he’s offering. That works incredibly well out of the leadoff spot for the Mets, but not so well in some fantasy formats. In OBP and points leagues he’s worth a spot, but lack of power, RBI, and stolen base production holds him back in Roto and category leagues.

Javier Báez (DET): 2-4, 2 2B.

It’s been a rough season for a lot of players in Detroit, but maybe none more so than the Tiger’s biggest offseason acquisition. Through his first 55 games, Báez’s slash line is an uninspiring .200/.242/.319, with just four home runs and three stolen bases. Although it’s been one of the roughest stretches of his career, it’s hard to not think Báez rights the ship at some point this year, and it may be happening now. Monday’s two-double output was his fifth straight game with a hit, and with the weather heating up, maybe Baez’s bat will as well. His 24.7% strikeout rate is his best since 2016, but Báez’s 7.9% barrel rate is a significant drop from last season’s 13.4% level. Some fantasy managers have seen enough, and Báez’s roster percentage has fallen from being near-universal to 81% in Yahoo! and 64% in ESPN leagues. If your offense has been struggling, Báez is an interesting dart throw. He’s incredibly streaky, so if Báez gets hot, he’ll produce a lot of value very quickly.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from every fantasy league format you can imagine to the unending greatness of Mike Trout. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

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