Weekly Top MLB Prospect Report – Oneil Cruz shines in big league debut

With the Durham Bulls claiming the 2021 Triple-A Final Stretch championship, we unfortunately had to say goodbye to minor league baseball for the season, and in turn, the Weekly Top MLB Prospect Report. At least for now. This week’s edition will be the last until next season. We started late this year, and I’m looking forward to a full season’s worth next year. But with all that said, let’s take a look at who the best prospects of the week were for the final time of the 2021 season.

SS Oneil Cruz (Pirates No. 3) – Cruz enjoyed a massive campaign across three levels this season. After slashing .292 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs across 62 games with Double-A Altoona, Cruz was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .524 with five homers in six games. The 6’7″ shortstop made his big league debut over Pittsburgh’s final two games of the season, where he was able to connect on his first big league homer. The Pirates have big plans for their very tall shortstop, and he could be one of the faces to lead Pittsburgh out of a long, long rebuild.

LHP Matthew Liberatore (Cardinals No. 2) – Making his final appearance of the season on the final day of the season, Liberatore was dealing for Triple-A Memphis. Liberatore tossed 3.1 scoreless frames, allowing only one hit and striking out four to pick up the win. The win capped on an impressive final months for Liberatore. Entering August with an unsightly 5.21 ERA, Liberatore posted a 2.67 ERA over his last 57.1 innings to lower his final ERA down to a much more respectable 4.04. With St. Louis legend Adam Wainwright sticking around for another season and Liberatore dealing in Triple-A, perhaps the Cardinals won’t have to wait too long for a replacement.

RHP Sean Hjelle (Giants No. 13) – Much like Liberatore, Hjelle cruised in his final start of the season. Taking the bump for Triple-A Sacramento Saturday night, Hjelle posted six scoreless frames, allowing only two hits and striking out five. Hjelle’s 5.74 ERA in 10 Triple-A starts doesn’t look good, but his 3.15 ERA across 14 Double-A starts is more telling to the pitcher Hjelle actually is. He’ll look to distinguish himself amongst San Francisco farmhands in 2022.

3B Kevin Smith (Blue Jays No. 9) – Waiting until the last week of the season, Smith joined the 20-homer club for the second time in his career. Facing Triple-A Syracuse Wednesday night, Smith went yard and added an RBI double on the night. A 2017 fourth-round pick, Smith finished with a .285 average with 21 homers and 69 RBIs over 94 games with Triple-A Buffalo in 2021.

OF Oscar Gonzalez (Indians NR) – Entering Wednesday night’s contest with 29 homers must not have been good enough for Gonzalez. Going yard twice in Triple-A Columbus’ 13-3 win over Louisville, Gonzalez became just the 11th member of the 2021 30-homer club. It was a solid season for Gonzalez, as he finished with a .293 average, as well as 31 homers and 83 RBIs. With some vacancies in Cleveland’s outfield, the soon to be Guardians would love to have Gonzalez’ bat in their lineup.

OF Jordan Qsar (Rays NR) – With his High-A Bowling Green squad falling behind 2-1 in the High-A East Championship series, Qsar put the Hot Rods on his back. Finishing the series with three homers and eight RBIs, Qsar lead the charge as Bowling Green stormed back and won the championship in a deciding game five. A 25th-round pick in the 2018 draft, Qsar’s performance lead Bowling Green to just their second franchise championship ever.

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