The Los Angeles Angels promoted first base prospect C.J. Cron to the big league roster over the weekend. He's off to a great start going 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and two RBI in his first two major league contests. Obviously we have no choice but to make Cron Monday's Prospect of the Day.
Cron was drafted in the first round in 2011 from the University of Utah. The son of former major leaguer Chris Cron, C.J. was a prodigious slugger in college, hitting .337/.380/.557 with 11 homers as a freshman, .431/.493/.817 with 20 homers as a sophomore, and .434/.517/.803 with 15 homers as a junior. His pro debut was similarly productive: .308/.371/.629 with 13 homers in 34 games in the Pioneer League.
Moved up to High-A Inland Empire for 2012, Cron hit .293/.327/.516 with 27 homers, 123 RBI, 17 walks, and 72 strikeouts in 525 at-bats. The low walk rate limited his OBP and helped push his wRC+ to just 112, not great for a first baseman, particularly in the California League. Moved up to Double-A Arkansas for '13, he hit .274/.319/.428 with 14 homers, 23 walks, and 83 strikeouts in 519 at-bats. That was also a non-great mark for a first baseman given the league and park context, his wRC+ checking in at just 107.
2014 has been different: .319/.369/.602 with six homers in 113 at-bats for Triple-A Salt Lake, with seven walks and 23 strikeouts. The slash line is obviously better but his relative production is way up with a wRC+ of 154. His strikeout rate (which has always been low for a slugger) is higher this year, but the increased aggressiveness seems to have improved his production. His walk rate has been moving up too, still low but gradually improving each season.
Cron is a 6-4, 235 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born January 5, 1990. Cron is a mediocre defender at first base and doesn't run well enough to play the outfield. Raw power is his best tool: few players can hit the ball farther than Cron when he's going well. Despite his aggressiveness and low walk rates, he makes contact and keeps his strikeouts under control, never striking out more than 83 times in one season. Even his higher whiff rate this year is still quite reasonable for a young power hitter, and he could wind up hitting for solid batting averages. He won the batting title in the 2013 Arizona Fall League.
His track record in '12 and '13 wasn't quite as good as scouts expected when he came out of college. I had some doubts pre-season, but those doubts might be misplaced. While there are sample size considerations we need to be aware of, he seems to have made genuine progress beginning last fall and into this spring. Cron may be a one-dimensional player, but that one dimension is a valuable one.