He may not have shown the power much in 2013, but C.J. Cron remains one of the better power hitting prospects in the majors. The question is whether or not the rest of his tools will be good enough for him to make it in the bigs.
Position: 1B Highest Level: Double-A
Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6'4" Weight: 235
Age: 24 Born: 1/5/1990
2013 Rank: 3
2013 Season Stats
Double-A: 565 PA, .274 AVG, .319 OBP, .428 SLG, 36 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 83 RBI, 83 SO, 8 SB, 4 CS, .298 BABIP, .328 wOBA, 107 wRC+
AFL: 92 PA, .413 AVG, .467 OBP, .700 SLG, 6 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 11 SO, 0 SB, 0 CS, .424 BABIP, .516 wOBA, 213 wRC+
Contact = A-
The type of ability to make contact Cron has isn’t unheard of, but predominantly, such hand-eye coordination comes from middle infielders and outfielders who rely on their ability to run to make big differences in the game. Cron however is a hulking, power hitting first baseman, which makes him all the more dangerous as a middle of the order presence.
Power = B+
Watching Cron during batting practice is often a sight to see. With the exception of Mark Trumbo, C.J. Cron is capable of reaching parts of the ballpark unvisited by baseballs before. In terms of physical strength, he has no equal in the system. The problem however is that Cron didn’t hit as many HR’s as many would’ve pegged him for this season, he hit a lot more DB’s instead. Normally one could write this off as Dickey Stephens Park being the hardest place to hit a HR in all of minor league baseball. But the problem with that logic is that players without as much power as Cron has, like Taylor Lindsey and Randal Grichuk didn’t seem to have a problem depositing balls over the OF fence. So why exactly didn’t Cron hit 27 bombs just like he did in A Ball if he still has the same power? The answer is likely a complicated one with many facets. The first being that Dickey Stephens Park turned quite a few of his HR’s into DB’s instead. The second reason could simply be a higher level of pitching. Pitchers are able to locate their offpseed pitches in AA, and these are more difficult to square up. The third reason appears to be rooted in Cron’s approach. Though his average was close to the same as it was in A Ball, Cron reached base more often, which suggests that he became more of a professional hitter and less of a free-swinger. As for Lindsey and Grichuk’s increased HR totals without Cron’s increasing, both Lindsey and Grichuk reached their age 21 season, which is a common age when ballplayers bodies tend to mature and increase in strength. At age 23, Cron likely doesn’t have any more physical maturing to do, though he does appear to be losing a lot of the baby fat in the same way Trumbo did in AA and AAA. Regardless, Cron has great power. He likely won’t have elite major league power because of the position he plays but it still appears likely he may become a 25 HR type of hitter someday.
Discipline = C-
Cron flashed an improved approach in his first season in AA, with lower strikeout totals and more BB. He still doesn’t have the great OBP you tend to see from many power hitting first baseman, which again makes Cron such an interesting case. He strikes out less and hits for a higher average than most power hitters, but also doesn’t walk as often and thus reach base as often. One trend we did see emerge with Cron is a willingness to chase bad pitches. Unlike most hitters, Cron still makes contact with these bad pitches, but he’s unable to generate much power on these pitches which results in infield flys, and groundballs.
Speed = D
As I said last season, Cron is no Bengie Molina on the base paths. He stole a surprising amount of bases this season in AA, which is odd because Cron really isn’t fast. It isn’t his game.
Arm = B
We were never able to issue Cron a grade before on his arm, as he was nursing a shoulder injury from college. Cron had surgery in the offseason to correct the issue and as the season went on his arm became stronger and stronger. It was once graded as “plus” while he was a catcher in college. While no first baseman really needs a plus arm, it’s clear that Cron actually has a surprisingly good arm for someone pegged as a future DH.
Fielding = C-
As far as 1B go, Cron’s pretty below average. He’s quite good at digging balls out of the dirt, but as far as his ability handling batted balls in his direction, that’s well below average.
Range = F
This is probably the biggest knock on Cron as a prospect. Even at a position which doesn’t require a great deal of defensive ability, he still possesses below average lateral movement and reactions, which means that he’s a slight step above a statue at 1B. On the balls that Cron can get to, he’s a sure bet to make the play. This lack of range almost certainly means Cron will remain a 1B or DH for the remainder of his career and never be tried at a corner OF spot like Trumbo.
Performance = B
Every season since being drafted, Cron has done nothing but hit. He was the best hitter on his team in AA, a team which included Lindsey and Grichuk. Rarely does a hitter hit lefties and righties at the same great clip as well as home and away. Cron did that and has proven to be among the top 1B prospects in the minors. At age 23, it appears highly likely Cron will reach the Majors before his 25th birthday, which puts him in line for several years at his physical peak.
Projection = B
While Cron is an elite hitter and one of the more impressive physical specimens in the system, it is unlikely you’ll see him as an all-star caliber 1B in the show. Cron projects to be a solid Major League 1B. I could see him hitting .270-.290 with 30+ DB and 25+ HR’s. While these numbers certainly are terrific, they won’t exactly jump out as elite in the Major Leagues. Statistically speaking, I think Cron will be very similar to Adam LaRoche, whose steady bat has kept him employed as a middle of the order hitter throughout his career and even garnered him some MVP votes as recently as last season, but he’s never made an all-star team because he’s often played the same position as Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera. That’s the type of career I envision Cron having. Hopefully that production comes in an Angels uniform, but the closer Cron gets to the Major Leagues, the more likely it seems he’ll become trade bait, especially if AAA Salt Lake inflates his numbers next year as I suspect it will. On the other hand, Mark Trumbo looks likely to be dealt this offseason, so perhaps Cron’s future is as an Angel.
Grade as a Prospect = B
Cron is one of the better 1B prospects in all of baseball. He’s hit at every level, is a former first round pick, has climbed the ladder fast and possesses more than moderate upside. While many organizations have good 1B prospects, few have ones as strong as Cron is that are as close to the Majors as he is.
Estimated MLB Arrival Date = End of 2014/Beginning of 2015
Cron would likely not embarrass himself in plate appearances at the Major League level right now. However, he just so happens to play in the same organization as Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. Pujols will always have a spot on this team regardless of declining production and Mark Trumbo was born and raised in Anaheim which could make the Angels averse to trading him. The Angels will likely allow Cron to move to AAA next season where the hitting friendly environments will undoubtedly inflate Cron’s numbers to his peak levels and generate more interest and hype for him as a player. If the Angels do trade him, they’ll deal him once his value as a prospect is at its highest.
2013 in Review*
Anyone who followed Cron this year knows that he didn't show that "light tower power" we've heard so much about in 2013. One could try and chalk it up to Cron falling victim to Dickey-Stephens Park, but his ISO was actually 23 points higher there than on the road, so that excuse is out.
One distinct possibility is that Cron was the victim of his own aggressive approach. Most sluggers whiff a lot, but Cron is actually quite good at putting the bat on the ball. What he isn't good at is realizing that just because he can hit a pitch doesn't mean that he should hit that pitch. He could get away with that in the low minors, but at Double-A it didn't. Pitchers at that level are skilled and smart enough to use aggressiveness against a hitter. That leads to Cron making a lot of contact, but weak contact and a frighteningly low 4.1% walk rate. That just isn't going to work in the majors.
What also won't work is his struggles with right-handed pitching. His slash line against armside pitching in 2013 was a feeble .258/.297/.400. To his credit, he hammered southpaws with a .198 ISO and a 6.8% walk rate. That at least gives him the potential to carve out a career as a platoon DH, but that would be a disappointing return on his natural talent.
Cron will assuredly be heading to Triple-A this season, returning him to the state where he was a college star. Between that comfort level and the altitude, Cron could put up some monster power numbers in 2014, but that also means him cleaning up his approach.
If things go well for Cron, a mid-season call up isn't entirely out of the question. The Angels have a need for a right-handed power bat to pair with Raul Ibanez and that is a role Cron is perfect for, but he needs to prove he is ready. If he isn't, then he can wait until 2015 where that DH slot will open up again. However, if he hopes to land a full-time DH gig, he is going to have to figure out how to handle right-handed pitching.
You've probably noticed by this point that I haven't mentioned fielding with Cron yet. That's because he can't really do it. He's really just a lawn ornament at first base at this point. For the Angels, that won't be a problem early on, but it will limit his long-term career prospects. What it also won't help is his trade value. Cron could be a trade chip at the deadline for the Halos, but the number of teams he would be of interest to lie entirely in the American League and even then a lot of those organizations aren't terribly fond of players that can't contribute in the field.
*As we do every year, the scouting reports and grades are provided by Scotty Allen while Garrett Wilson provides the 2013 in Review and Looking Ahead sections.