Oneil Cruz among NL Rookie of the Year favorites after dazzling '22 debut
Ahead of his delayed season debut last week, Oneil Cruz was a relative long shot to win NL Rookie of the Year. A week later, he's among the favorites.
After his long-awaited premiere outing, the young Pirates star quickly dazzled MLB fans with a week of highlight plays. Cruz is favored at most shops - and was briefly the favorite at Barstool Sportsbook earlier this week - but is currently priced with the third-shortest odds (+500) on the board, just behind Padres starter MacKenzie Gore (+400) and red-hot Braves bat Michael Harris II (+425).
|Michael Harris II||+425|
It's been a winding road for Cruz, who entered the season as the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year with the expectation that he'd make Pittsburgh's roster for Opening Day. That call never came for the top-15 prospect, and Cruz toiled away in the minors as fellow rookies got off to hot starts.
Then news broke that he'd make his first major-league appearance, and we highlighted him as a potential dark-horse candidate to win the award at 21-1 odds. Sure enough, Cruz impressed in his record-setting debut with his arm and his bat. The 6-7 shortstop gunned down a would-be runner at first with a 96.7 MPH throw - fastest by any infielder this season - and later smacked a three-run double at 112.9 MPH, the hardest-hit ball by any Pirates batter this year.
Cruz has continued his electric play throughout his first week of the campaign. On Monday, he crushed his first home run of the season into center field on a frozen rope that left his bat at 109.8 MPH and exited the park in roughly two seconds. Take a look for yourself:
If that's the start of a power surge for Cruz, the rest of the field is in trouble. The 23-year-old is hitting .250 with a subpar .438 slugging percentage, and his eight strikeouts with zero walks are a concern. But he's already batted in eight runners in eight games with just one solo home run to support it, as four of his eight hits have gone for extra bases.
If Cruz doesn't improve his plate discipline, that could hamper his chances of putting together a strong end-of-season line. However, a slugger with Cruz's frame and natural power has plenty more highlight-reel plays to come at the plate and in the field, and he doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon.
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