North Little Rock, Ark.
Standing in the dugout of Dickey-Stephens Park, waiting for his team’s batting practice to begin, Arkansas Travelers first baseman C.J. Cron witnessed a chunk of his childhood.
Ty Bogar, the 13-year-old son of the Travelers’ manager, took swings in the cage as Tim Bogar delivered one pitch after another on a summer afternoon in an empty ballpark.
C.J. and Chris Cron once occupied that scene on minor league fields from Colorado to North Carolina.
“I remember when I was a kid, I’d pretend the outfield grass was my home run,” Cron said.
The dimensions are bigger and the standards are higher these days for Cron, a former University of Utah star. In the third season of his climb through the Los Angeles Angels organization, he’s hitting consistently and playing good defense, fulfilling the expectations of a first-round draft choice.
Except for the part about home runs. Cron has hit only eight of them (ranking fourth on the team), while batting .287 and driving in 57 runs. The size of his home ballpark and the quality of Texas League pitching partly explain his drop-off from 27 homers last season at Inland Empire of the Class-A California League.
Paul Sorrento, the Angels’ minor league hitting coordinator, said during a visit to the Double-A Arkansas affiliate that homers are “kind of overrated.”
As for Cron’s overall value, well, that may become an intriguing subject in the weeks, months or years to come. His logical progression would take him to the Salt Lake Bees next season. But with Albert Pujols (and Mark Trumbo) occupying first base for the Angels, Cron may be worth more to another team in a trade before he gets back to Utah.
He’s not concerned about any of this stuff. Having grown up in minor league baseball, he’s uncommonly consistent in his approach, weathering the occasional slumps and everything else involved with coming to the ballpark every day.
“That part’s definitely helped,” Cron said of his upbringing. “I kind of knew what to expect coming in. I kind of knew the daily grind that minor-leaguers go through, so that was good. … Anytime you make a jump — probably the biggest jump in minor league baseball — there’s going to be ups and downs. You’ve just got to keep calm and keep confident and keep hitting.”
That, Cron can do.
“He’s got phenomenal hand-eye coordination; how he does it is amazing,” said Bobby Scales, the Angels’ director of player personnel. “He doesn’t strike out a lot. He doesn’t walk a lot. He seems to hit everything. With his kind of power, if we could just get him to tighten up his strike zone a little bit, focusing on the pitches he can hit hard ...”
Cron is proving to be durable, having undergone knee surgery near the end of his rookie season in Orem in 2011 and shoulder surgery last August. He was the only Angels prospect who played in Sunday’s Futures Game at Citi Field in New York. Cron went 2-for-4 and was greeted at first base by his father — the manager of Double-A Erie in the Detroit organization — who participated as a U.S. coach.
One recent afternoon, a teammate teasingly labeled Cron “The Future.” He replied good-naturedly, “Is that what we’re calling me now?”
No matter what happens, Cron is making sure his future in baseball will be worth watching.
C.J. Cron’s pro baseball career
Year Team Level G Avg. HR RBI
2011 Orem Rookie 34 .308 13 41
2012 Inland Empire Class A 129 .293 27 122
2013 Arkansas Double-A 87 .287 8 57