‘The guy’s a freak’, what McCutchen said of teaming with Oneil Cruz

Buccos great said he was shocked at what Cruz was doing last year

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Andrew McCutchen has played with some really good players in his career from AJ Burnett to Russell Martin. Neil Walker with the Pirates, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in New York, Bryce Harper in Philly. McCutchen seems as excited to now be a teammate of Oneil Cruz.

“The guy’s a freak,” McCutchen said. “I mean, this is in sports terms. You got Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks and that’s his name, the Greek Freak. The things that you can see him do, you go ‘wow’.”

In the history of Major League Baseball, no one has hit a ball harder than the 122.4 mile an hour single Cruz hit in 2022 (this comes with the caveat, MLB only started recognizing exit velocity as a stat since 2015).

Most power comes from pulling the ball, Cruz hit an opposite field home run 115.8 miles an hour. He also pulled one into the upper-deck in Milwaukee 117.5 miles an hour (something McCutchen would have seen with his own eyes).

“We always say, when an actual professional baseball player, who sees baseball all the time, all types of players, and then you see someone like Cruz hit a ball 120 miles an hour, you’re like ‘oh my goodness,’ McCutchen said. “When we react that way, it’s like wow, it shows you what his talent is. It speaks of what he can be.”

Cruz got a taste in 2021, hitting a home run in nine at bats and would play the first 55 games of ’22 in AAA Indianapolis. There was concern about a .232 average, which started much lower. He would hit nine home runs in 55 games.

The Pirates were slow to make the move, whether it was for control sake (Cruz won’t be a free agent until 2029) or if they were unsure he could handle it. They finally pulled the trigger and he arrived at PNC Park on June 20. He would drive in four runs against the Cubs. Then drive in runs each of the next three games against Chicago. The 23-year-old hit his first home run in Washington DC days later and then returned to Pittsburgh for a second time. The Dominican Republic native would homer twice against McCutchen’s Brewers.

Cruz finished the season with a .233 average, .294 on-base percentage, 13 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs and 54 RBI in 87 games with 10 stolen bases.

“He hit his share of homers against us last year, that’s for sure,” McCutchen said. “But, it’s tremendous, watching him, seeing what he does. You’re at the edge of your seats just to see what he’s going to do. It could be from hitting the ball to running down the line, hustle double or throwing a ball across the diamond, the guy does it all and he does it so effortlessly.”

He made his share of errors, only a .953 fielding percentage at shortstop, not helped by a cavalcade of poor fielding first basemen.  He also showed off his arm, along with the hardest hit ball in MLB history, Cruz has the fastest infield throw in MLB history. He got the first out of the bottom of the third inning at the Marlins in July with a 97.8 mph laser.

“That’s something that is also quite, quite, quite impressive,” McCutchen said. “I’m just happy to be on this side with him and he can hit as many homers as he wants. I get to be on the winning side of that, and it’s great.”

Now Cruz gets the best Pirates player of his lifetime to help him with all of the other aspects of his game and his growth.

“I'm looking forward to playing alongside him, getting to know him and hopefully help him be the best player he can possibly be,” McCutchen said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports