By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
C.J. Cron, first baseman/designated hitter, Los Angeles Angels
2015 season (Minors): 23 G, 93 AB, .323 BA, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB, 1.014 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 113 G, 378 AB, .262 BA, 16 HR, 51 RBI, 3 SB, .739 OPS
With Albert Pujols recovering from offseason foot surgery, the Angels may feel more comfortable with him playing most games at designated hitter, which likely locks C.J. Cron in as the Angels’ starting first baseman for the 2016 season.
Cron began 2015 with the Angels, but after he struggled to a .204 average in 31 games, he was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. Cron smacked the ball around at Salt Lake and was back up with Los Angeles for good by the end of June. From there, Cron looked like he belonged and ended the season with 15 homers and a .285/.325/.507 slash line in his final 78 games (71 starts).
A first-round pick (17th overall) of the Angels in 2011 out of the University of Utah, Cron cruised through the Minors with a .293/.337/.505 line. He never really struggled much at any level, but didn’t blow any doors off and never made any top 100 prospects lists. Nonetheless, he’s been pretty solid thus far at every level, and now he just needs to take his strong second half with the Angels into this season.
In order to do so, he’ll have to improve his plate discipline. Cron owns a very poor .296 OBP in 192 big league games. Even in his strong second half, Cron had just a .304 OBP. He maintains a strong OPS because of his slugging (.451), but that won’t improve if he can’t find a way to work more walks. Of hitters with at least 400 plate appearances, his 4.2 walk rate ranked in the bottom 20 of the league. Cron swings at far too many outside pitches, 39.2 percent to be exact, which was the 14th highest in the bigs last year (minimum 400 PAs).
Cron seems to be able to keep up a respectable batting average despite his inability to work walks, and he does so while hitting for power with a career .444 slugging percentage, .184 ISO and 27 homers and 29 doubles in 657 plate appearances. While he doesn’t appear to have 40-homer potential, 30-homer seasons could be in the future. For now, a season with 20-plus homers and 20-plus doubles seems likely for a healthy Cron, as long as he can avoid a dip in contact rates.
Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections have him with 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 26 doubles and a .258/.296/.452 slash line. Cron gives Los Angeles a lot of bang for its buck with the pop, and if he can somehow manage to get on base more, he’ll be able to live up to that first-round pick the Angels spent on him a few years ago.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.