We're kicking off the Angels' 2012 Top Prospect Rankings today with a look at #5, CJ Cron. I plan to skip around a little, focusing first on the guys we haven't looked at yet this offseason.
5) CJ Cron, 1/5/1990 - DH/1B
.308/.371/.629 with 13 HR's
CJ Cron hits baseballs vast distances. Full stop.
To be honest, I was worried when I saw him in July. Cron's pop was obvious - he lined a bullet over the right field wall and crushed two deep bombs to left (though one was called back on a horrendous umpire gaffe) - but his approach was a mess and his swing looked awkward. At one point, he came up against a guy who had thrown 8 of his last 9 offerings for balls, flailed at a first pitch curveball that bounced a foot in front of the plate, then proceeded to strike out on three more pitches, stranding a pair of baserunners. That was the worst of a string of poor AB's I witnessed over four games.
But sample size matters. Through the second half of July, Cron cut his K's down and ramped up his production, suggesting that I'd caught him at an adjustment period. The prior season, Cron had mashed like no other collegiate with the new, neutered metal bats, so it wasn't a surprise to see him come roaring back and slug .629 with a Pioneer League-best .321 iso. What did surprise me was his batted ball distribution: he slammed 5 of 13 HR's to right field, and went to the opposite field with almost 50% of his batted balls. For any player, that's rare. For a slugger, that's downright mind-boggling (the closest precedent that I know of to Cron's batted ball distribution is Jeremy Moore's 2010 season with the Travs, when he slugged .228 with 6 HR's to the opposite field). While no guarantee of success, Cron's feel for using the whole field should mean good batting averages to match his monster foul pole to foul pole power.
Cron's pop derives from explosive upper body strength, especially in his wrists, which allows him to accelerate the bat head through the strikezone with loads of torque. He takes a big stride, which may screw with his timing and make it difficult to adjust to good offspeed stuff. Stepping so far forward also causes his head to drop, which could also screw with his hand/eye coordination. Because he doesn't really need the stride to generate power, my guess is the Angels will have him cut the motion down and start his stance with a wider base, similar to Mark Trumbo or Albert Pujols (fun to say that!). Cron also looked like he might be fighting his body a little as he swung, but I might just be looking too hard for evidence of the bum shoulder. You be the judge:
The Pujols addition and Trumbo's ascension complicate Cron's path to the majors, but from what I saw, the 2011 draftee should only benefit from plenty of time in the minors. His plate discipline may need more polish than the Angels had hoped, so he might head to Cedar Rapids next year instead of making the jump to High A. But when he is ready, Cron has a very good chance of being an annual 30 HR masher in a major league lineup, which is the kind of bat you make room for. His lack of defensive tools limits his overall value, likely topping him out as a 2-4 WAR contributor, but he's the best bet -- the only good bet, really -- for becoming a true middle of the order hitter currently in the Angels' system.