Why Everyone is Drafting the Wrong Cruz in Fantasy Baseball

Both Oneil Cruz and Elly De La Cruz possess the tools to either make or break your fantasy squad. You should only trust one.

Oneil Cruz of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park.
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - AUGUST 11, 2023: Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on during the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on August 11, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

The power and speed combination is similar to the lure of Siren’s song, everybody wants it!

In Greek Mythology, Siren’s soothing music tempted sailors right into shipwreck. This is exactly what I’m trying to help you avoid when drafting your 2024 shortstop. 

It’s crucial to recognize the amount of confidence you are placing on each player by how early you take them. So far the consensus loves Elly as they are taking him right around his ADP of 37th overall. This not only tells me fantasy players love the flash and hype but also the trust factor is there. As a result he must be reliable, correct? 

Why You Should Stay Away From Elly De La Cruz

In 98 games during his rookie season, Elly danced to the tune of a .235 clip while adding 13 home runs and 35 steals. His OPS landed slightly above .700, while scoring 67 times on his way to finishing seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting. 

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That’s all fine and dandy, now let’s get a little dirty under the hood. I had to do a double take when glancing at his strikeout total. We aren’t talking about Javier Baez are we? Nope, those 144 K’s from Elly are frightening and better yet the truth of the matter last season.

Confidence is a funny thing, especially in baseball. There were times when I saw Elly dig into the box with what seemed to be the eye of the tiger. Other times I saw a freshman taking on the varsity like a deer in the headlights.

Things went from bad to worse during the dog days of August and September. Once the league started figuring out holes in his swing, strikeout rates shot through the roof.

Elly is still only 22 years old so the possibility of being demoted to Triple-A is not completely out of the realm of possibility. The news of Noelvi Marie and his PED usage does indeed help Elly’s case to stay up even if things get mucky. However all front offices operate differently and if the Reds believe their young superstar needs more seasoning, they’ll pull the trigger. 

When it comes to your drafts, I want you to imagine selecting Elly with your third overall pick. If you wait any longer he will be gone. Now imagine that same player performing so poorly he has to be sent down. Is this possible with anyone else in his draft range?

Will Luis Robert, Bo Bichette, Adolis Garcia, Manny Machado, or Pablo Lopez be sent down to the minors? I even think it’s a little disrespectful to a lot of these guys who have proven they can produce at a high rate. Go ahead and look at Manny Machado’s baseball reference page, you’ll realize he’s quietly one of the most consistent hitters in the game. 

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All factors considered, should we trust Elly at his current price? For now I’d stay away and you know a lot of my reasoning. Yet, I haven’t quite told you the biggest of them all. 

There’s another tall, Dominican-born shortstop in the NL Central worthy of trusting. He doesn’t play in red and white. He sports the black and gold.

Why You Should Draft Oneil Cruz in Fantasy

“El Monkey”. Okay so the nickname is fantastic and should be reason enough for Oneil Cruz to be taken as your shortstop. Unfortunately nicknames don’t do much in the world of fantasy baseball. You know what does? A ceiling as high as the sky which comes at a price cheap enough that it’s almost laughable.

He is going in the eighth round of most drafts right around pick 89, which makes absolutely zero sense to me. I’m here to tell you it’s a classic case of recency bias.  

For all my Rocky 3 fans out there, remember at the beginning of the movie when Mr. T’s character Clubber Lang was watching Rocky Balboa knock out all the soft competition and then get recognized for it like he was some sort of God?

Oneil Cruz was doing his best Clubber Lang impression just last year as the world forgot about him while Elly received all the publicity. Oneil is a year removed from fracturing his ankle and I’ve got news for all those who were distracted; he’s back.

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People told me I was crazy during the offseason when I expressed Oneil is not only the better value, he’s the better player. They believed his 2022 half season in the majors was a fluke. They claimed his ankle would never allow him to be the same player. They thought he couldn’t figure out his strikeout issue. They stated Pittsburgh’s lineup has no upside or support. Shall we articulate these points?

First off, his 2022 performance. Oneil slashed .233/.294/.450 with 17 home runs and 10 steals in 87 games. Pointing at these numbers and crying faulty is a bold move but since we weren’t blessed with his presence last year, let’s take a look at his minor league career.

After not seeing any action in 2020 due to the pandemic, Oneil came back strong in 2021. In 69 games at Triple-A, Cruz smacked 17 homers along with 19 steals and a .310 batting average. Looks solid to me!

Oh and he also smacked the hardest-hit ball in Statcast era history.

Yordan Alvarez isn’t the only superstar the Dodgers shipped off in a minor league trade many years ago. That’s right, Oneil Cruz belonged to Los Angeles back in 2017. It’s okay though, not like LA needs a shortstop right? I’m sure Andrew Friedman and his front office would like to have that one back. And for the sake of the league, thank goodness Oneil Cruz isn’t on the Dodgers. 

To the many people doubting if his health will ever be 100%, does five home runs through his first nine spring training games convince you differently?

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In just 29 plate appearances during that time, he has captured the league lead for shots over the fence while also adding a stolen base and a 1.330 OPS. I think the ankle is doing just fine. 

I’m sure Elly has many more homers since that’s how the consensus treats him! Oh, he’s only got one homer in 31 spring appearances? So 20% of Oneil’s total home runs in more at-bats…interesting. I’d never be the one to strictly hold a player to their spring training numbers but it’s a fun little discovery early on in Florida and Arizona. Could even be what some people call foreshadowing.

How about that strikeout issue? It was apparent that Oneil had a swing and miss issue in which we see with so many young, unseasoned players. The good news is that his brief week in the majors last season showed improved selection and strikeout data, only striking out eight times in nine games.

This was a much improved mark from his 2022, showing of 126 strikeouts in 87 games. As for this year’s spring training, the same behavior is holding steady. Oneil has gone down on strikes only six times in nine games. He’s entering prime years which not only means more power but also gaining an improved eye by way of experience and selection at the plate. Sign me up!

Additionally, let’s please stop arguing for Elly because he’s in a better lineup. Yes it’s true, the Reds are a better team than the Pirates. My grandma who doesn’t watch baseball could tell you that.

But are we really taking into consideration who Oneil will be hitting leadoff ahead of? Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Andrew McCutchen, Jack Suwinski, and top prospect Henry Davis aren’t too shabby. This could be a sneaky good top-heavy lineup.

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On top of lineup alone, placement has to be considered. Boy do I love my leadoff hitters. I’m an advocate of turning simple chance into solid production when it comes to the top of lineups. Leadoff hitters get more at-bats than anyone else on the team, a fact so obvious that people overlook it! 

For three straight seasons, Marcus Semien had led the league in plate appearances.

One reason I took him so early in last year’s draft is because I knew he would be getting countless opportunities. The result for 2023? 185 hits, 122 runs and 14 stolen bases. He was an anchor for my team and somebody I could count on everyday.

Oneil will be a natural in the No. 1 hole and the number of opportunities will be ample every single game. It’s even scarier when you realize Oneil has much more power than Semien. I see Oneil’s floor no less than 30 homers and 20 steals. As for a ceiling, there is none. Maybe the sky.

On the other hand, do we know exactly where Elly will be slotted in the Reds lineup?

Last year it seemed he was usually in the bottom half taking up the No. 6 hole. If this continues in 2024, I don’t think that’s optimal for what people are projecting from him.

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For example, the Elly supporters keep believing he could reach 50 steals. Why do they think this?

His OBP barely touched .300 last year, he doesn’t walk much at all and his pitch selection is as questionable as anyone in the game. Drafters put so much unnecessary pressure on their teams by believing such absurd projections.

Now let’s talk average draft position. Everything on paper suggests Oneil should be taken somewhere within the first three rounds. Next year at this time you’ll be thanking me since he’ll easily land in the top 30 of 2025 ADP. As previously mentioned, capturing him in the eighth round is more than a steal; it’s a full on burglary of the United States Mint. You get the point. 

I understand a spot like second base is more shallow than shortstop but Gleyber Torres ranking ahead of Oneil is pure insanity. The guy’s got a great glove and plays for a popular team in New York but is he worth such an expensive cost? If you don’t know the answer think about it for a second. Isn’t sacrificing someone like Gleyber for Oneil so much easier than sacrificing Machado for Elly? 

It’s not just Gleyber who won’t live up to Oneil’s final 2024 stats. I could name countless mediocre players who are being taken in his same draft range. Joe Ryan, Xander Bogaerts, Nick Castellanos, George Springer. I’d literally take Oneil 10/10 times over any of those guys.

Never pay too much for a safe player within the 75-100 range. There are few players who are league winners in this area. Oneil being available here is a true rarity.

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When it’s so early in drafts, having an exact roadmap for filling every spot is difficult. That’s why taking the best player with either elite consistency or huge upside is crucial to build around.

You can’t build around any of the average players just mentioned above and also can’t have much confidence in a player profile like that of Elly De La Cruz. You can indeed build around Oneil Cruz. Better yet, you can trust Oneil Cruz.

The average draft position of both shortstops is giving so many of us an easy choice. We’re lucky the crowd has a short memory because it’s hard to remember a greater value in past draft seasons.

Don’t get stuck in 2023. It’s 2024 now which means you can’t fall victim to recency bias, injury complaints, and false statistical bias. Throw all of those things out of the window.

When the first week of the season comes around and you finally see the light come to fruition on the field, don’t let Oneil Cruz be the one who got away.

You will thank me at the end of the season when you are shoving that fantasy trophy or those cash winnings in the face of your friends and league mates.

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