With a .372/.413/.767 slash through 16 games in the Cactus League, it appears the Rockies may have more than just a frontrunner for their first base duties.
Colorado finalized a one-year, $1 million deal (plus incentives) with C.J Cron this week. His spring campaign so far has lifted him beyond the non-roster invite status he arrived with, and the Rockies have secured a key corner infielder in an otherwise uncertain post-Helton/post-Arenado landscape. Cron comes with an interesting statistical background, seven years of big league tenure, and a strong familiarity with hitting in thin air.
When the Rockies drafted Colorado native Kyle Freeland, they knew they were selecting an arm that was accustomed to pitching in Denver. Cron wasn’t an eye-popping addition this offseason, but if the Rockies could hand-pick a player that can adjust to altitude, Cron may come close to an ideal candidate. The University of Utah alum finally gets a taste of altitude again.
Cron’s pro career is about to meet the same thin air he first made a name for himself in. He was the 17th overall selection in the 2011 draft after his time with Utah in the Mountain West Conference. He was taken ahead of fellow first-rounders Sonny Gray, Tyler Anderson and Robert Stephenson — and ahead of second-rounder Trevor Story.
Cron grew up in Phoenix, Arizona; while the 1,086-foot elevation is nowhere near the 5,280 in Denver, Chase Field does hold the second-highest MLB elevation. Salt Lake City sits 4,226 feet above sea level. Even Cron’s professional career took him through the state of Utah multiple times (rookie ball and Triple-A); in each of his four seasons with the Angels, he spent part of those years in Triple-A Salt Lake.
He underwent season-ending knee surgery last August, so his one season with the Detroit Tigers was limited to just 17 games. His 42 at-bat sample is small, but a .190 average last year (career low) tells a far different story than his .548 slugging percentage (career high). Seven of Cron’s eight hits last year were for extra bases. Four of them were home runs. His strikeout percentage was also the highest of his career, but when 2020 disrupted schedules across the board, perhaps it took Cron a little longer to regain his pitch-tracking abilities. The 2020 delays didn’t seem to impact his ability to smack the seams off the ball when he made solid contact, at least.
Sure, his damage in the Cactus League can be mitigated with a spring training shrug-off, but it’s impressive after the way Cron’s tenure with the Tigers ended. He has seen about as many at-bats this March (43) as he did in all of the 2020 regular season (42), and has cut his strikeouts nearly in half (9 to 16). This could be from several factors, but it could suggest he is making ‘better’ contact this spring: his hard hit percentage in Detroit was his lowest ever. His BABIP last year was just .182 which suggests Cron’s batted balls were often hit right at fielders, but a decrease in solid contact can also make for an easier time in the field. The outfield at Coors Field may be expansive like Comerica Park, but Cron is bound to have a lot more luck at 20th and Blake.
Almost all of Cron’s projections on FanGraphs this year show a slugging percentage in the .500’s, which is above his career figure of .464. It will be interesting to monitor if his batting average shows a similar increase, which may determine where Bud Black puts him in the lineup.
If his regular season figures bear any similarities to the spring he’s posted, the Rockies could be looking at their best first baseman since Todd Helton’s retirement in 2013. Cron may not end up a long-term staple like Helton was, but he might provide some normalcy in a position that has seen plenty of variance over the past seven years.
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A hamstring strain has sidelined Antonio Senzatela for a large portion of the Cactus League, but his performance on Friday looked like he hasn’t missed a beat. He threw five innings of one-run baseball, spacing two hits and collecting three strikeouts.
Colton Welker was the only player on either team with multiple hits. He continues a hot start in the Cactus League while the Rockies assess his status for the early-season roster. Patrick Saunders: “[He] likely won’t make the big-league roster out of camp, but he continues to rake.” Welker has an OPS above .900 this spring.
Colorado took a 3-2 lead into the eighth and handed the ball to Jairo Díaz; it was not his day, as he allowed three earned runs in one inning of work. Díaz allowed a home run and three more hits to Cleveland hitters, and his spring ERA is now in the 11’s.
The final pitch of the Rockies' only playoff victory in the past decade was thrown by Scott Oberg. He faced four Cubs batters that night at Wrigley Field. He struck out all four. Any other club, that's legend stuff... https://t.co/0mwL6BnZx6— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) March 27, 2021
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