1B C.J. Cron – Mashin’ Taters; Mashin’ Doors
C.J. Cron is a good human; we already know that. What we, or at least I, didn’t know is that this prototypical looking first baseman in the Angels’ organization is not quite that. Cron just wrapped up a torrid run through the AFL where he finished as the batting average champ while teammate and Prawn favorite Kris Bryant stole the MVP honors, besting Cron by a single point of wRC+ (215 to Cron’s 214) Cron is a first baseman, through and through – a BABIP that hovers around .300, dingers and dingers, and an all-contact-barely-walk approach. Wait, what? A contact-first hitter, a touch of foot-speed, and plus-plus power? Cron struck out in only 14.7% of his professional plate appearances so far across three levels not counting his crazy run through the AFL, which would be the same mark Eric Hosmer posted this year. Hosmer posted the fourth lowest strikeout rate amongst qualified first basemen this year, and Cron projects to be a much more powerful hitter than his other peripheral comps, who all tend to hover around .150 ISOs. (Obvious exception Encarnacion, 13%BB, 10%K, .262ISO, but that’s just nuts) Suffice it to say, Cron is a unique beast, and with Mark Trumbo reportedly available and a hobbled Albert Pujols missing a hundred games a year, he may be taking his unique approach to the Bigs sooner rather than later.
Cron’s plate discipline is fairly unique amongst players with his skillset (high power, average speed) and I didn’t find any satisfyingly comparable players from 2013 to use as an example of a big leaguer succeeding with something similar to his skills, but when I opened my searches back to first basemen since the turn of the century I did come up with a few interesting names that work as comps on some level. He profiles like a very differently built Hosmer, in that he’s a surprising threat in speed and above-par batting average, but Cron has the edge on Hosmer in the raw-power department. (although this requires one disregard Cron’s fairly major power outage in AA this year, dropping nearly 70 points in ISO, and yikes.) Jorge Cantu had two good years for the Marlins in 08 and 09 that look like two solid versions of the hitter that Cron could become. He traded some strikeouts and power for some walks going into 09 for a decidedly less appealing version of his wRC+ from his stellar year prior. Another interesting name came up in my searches and I think it may be the best one overall. Aubrey Huff put up a similar combo of low walks and low whiffs with ISOs that often hovered around .200. As Cron’s eye improves (and hopefully his 8.7% walk rate in the AFL portends that this is already underway) he should be able to up his walk rate a bit and would see a corresponding drop in his Ks, and if this takes place he could very well end up looking a lot like the version of Huff that played for the Orioles in 07 and 08, putting up a total of 4.6 WAR with nice OBP and ISOs (Huff was also never exactly revered on defense, but in what observation of Cron could be done in the AFL games I watched he appeared to handle the position well enough to be above Huff.)
(Video Courtesy Mike Rosenbaum)
Cron’s swing has a nice preload, and his hands generate a great deal of his impressive bat speed, allowing him to get around on inside pitches and turn them out into hits. He fights off pitches well and more importantly appears to be learning to lay off on fouling off balls and focus on the strikes. When he makes good contact, he has a nice plane that lends itself well to line drives and makes ‘that sound.’ With a bit more seasoning and a little bit of the magic he displayed in the Fall League, Cron could be ready to show off his low-K, average and home runs based approach on the biggest stage. While many of the comps above aren’t the most flattering, projections rarely can be. The optimist in me sees Cron as having the potential to put up a season not unlike Prince Fielder‘s usual .300/.350/.550, and that is what I’d be dreaming on if I were an Angels fan.
Overall, C.J. Cron looks the part of a first-baseman and appears poised to be just that at the highest level. He may not be doing it the traditional way, but the Angels definitely have room in their lineup for someone who can hit for average and knock a few out at the same time because what team doesn’t? With their desperate need of starting pitching, the Angels are going to have to deal away some of their offensive pieces this year. While Howie Kendrick‘s name has been tossed about a fair bit, I would be no less surprised to see Trumbo moved in the offseason and for Cron to start seeing some limited action before September of next year; obviously a strong performance in the spring may accelerate such a move. The Angels have a solid core – something easy to forget in light of their failings the last two seasons – and adding quality pieces around your already solid core is always a good way to build toward a championship. There’s a non-zero chance that this time next year the press is writing about how Arte Moreno’s big-ticket free agent signings ‘just took two years to gel’ and march to a World Series title on the considerable shoulders and talent of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols (two of the game’s best hitters, possibly of all time). There’s also a non-zero chance that C.J. Cron plays a fair bit for that team, spelling Albert at first and taking games at DH.
Posted on November 18, 2013, in Angels, Hitters, Profile, Top Prospects and tagged Albert Pujols, Aubrey Huff, C.J. Cron, Eric Hosmer, Howie Kendrick, Jorge Cantu, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout, Prince Fielder. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.