Oneil Cruz‘s injury on Easter Sunday put an early season damper on an exciting start for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cruz was expected to be a big part of the Pirates’ offense in his first full season. That dream ended abruptly. Pittsburgh has spun the wheel trying to find a guy to stay at shortstop and it seems to have finally landed on Tucupita Marcano.
Including Cruz, five different players have played at shortstop this season for Pittsburgh. Ji-Hwan Bae played three games there early in the season but has played mostly outfield to this point. Rodolfo Castro was the first true choice to attempt to replace Cruz. Things didn’t go well for him making six errors in just 71 chances for a .915 fielding percentage.
The Pirates have a plethora of middle-infield prospects in their system. That’s where the majority of their prospect notability comes from. However, Marcano was acquired in the trade that sent Adam Fraizer to the San Diego Padres at the 2021 trade deadline.
Marcano is still only 23 years old and won’t turn 24 until September. It took a few injuries for him to finally get his chance but it seems that Marcano now has a stranglehold on the shortstop position.
Tucupita Marcano Filling Shortstop Void for Pirates
In 22 games at shortstop, Marcano has made just one error in 59 chances. He doesn’t have the strongest arm and likely profiles better as a second baseman long term. Steadiness is what the Pirates need at the moment, however, as their season has spiraled. Marcano provides exactly that.
The most important thing he’s provided as of late, though, is coming on the offensive side of the ball. Marcano possesses a sweet looking swing that can play at the major league-level.
Tucupita Marcano looking like a pretty decent Major League hitter, especially for a 23-year-old
Really great contact skills with the 12.5% K% and an 83% Contact%, and it comes with a barrel rate just below the league average at 7.3%. Should be an everyday player for the Bucs. pic.twitter.com/Mm4lZy6LFN
— Jon Anderson (@JonPgh) June 1, 2023
Slashing .272/..327/.478 on the 2023 campaign is not a bad line for a 23-year old trying to officially break into the MLB. Marcano hit a grand slam last weekend against the Rangers that proved to be the decisive blow. He’s got three home runs in 104 plate appearances to go along with 10 runs batted in. Not too bad for a shortstop.
The Pirates have caught a lot of flack in the past for being too cautious with prospects. Marcano had major league experience upon coming to Pittsburgh but they wasted no time promoting him to Pittsburgh upon acquiring him. He was only 22 at the time of his promotion last season.
The 23-year old is batting .294 with a .951 OPS over the past 14 days. Marcano’s hot streak at the plate and solid play at shortstop has gotten him promoted to the top third of the lineup. Marcano and Andrew McCutchen have rotated in and out of the leadoff spot in the past few games.
Battling The Splits
A lefty hitter, Marcano fairs much better against right-handed pitchers than left-handed hitters. Manager Derek Shelton has shown that he cares more about matchups than typically just playing the nine-best players on his roster. This has cut into Marcano’s playing time at shortstop just a bit.
Currently, he splits time with 31-year old journeyman Chris Owings. The Pirates have a habit of getting these types of players ample playing time before deciding that they aren’t going to coax any extra magic out of them. Josh VanMeter got a lot of run last season before being designated for assignment. Much the same goes for Yoshi Tsutsugo. Mark Mathias was given many chances this season only to find out he was another dumpster dive.
— Jacob Book (@jbook302) May 31, 2023
Marcano is a legitimate player and is proving so right now. The Pirates need to let him play. He is batting .308 against righties but is hitting .071 against lefties. Yes, these are ugly splits, however he’s only had 16 plate appearances against lefties. For his career, he is a .203 hitter against lefties. That isn’t too inspiring but he can at least hold his own in an everyday role no matter the the opposing pitchers’ handedness.
It is not imperative to see what Chris Owings has left in the tank at the expense of Tucupita Marcano.
What to do when Cruz gets back?
Marcano plays second base and shortstop but also can handle himself in the outfield. He isn’t the best fielder out there but the Pirates could certainly use an everyday right fielder as the spot has been a rotating door. Marcano’s bat may outweigh any fielding deficiencies if he continues to hit well.
Canaan Smith-Njigba was the first player to get a chance out there but he played poorly and was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. Josh Palacios was swinging a hot bat at Triple-A and got the call to the majors but has been a dud to this point. Ji-Hwan Bae has started games all over the outfield and has been hot lately so he’s getting a chance to play more as well.
At the moment, the Pirates as a team are not hitting the ball well. According to Pirates Director of Sports Medicine Todd Tomczyk, Cruz will transition out of a walking boot next week. He is still ways away from a return and it isn’t 100% that a return happens in 2023. However, if he does come back, finding a way to keep Marcano in would be a win for the Pirates.
They may want to ease Cruz back into the lineup so allowing him to DH while Marcano handles the shortstop duties could be the prudent way to go. Regardless, Tucupita Marcano is doing an admirable job filling in at shortstop and deserves an everyday role for the Pirates.
Photo Credit- Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports