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2017 could finally be the year C.J. Cron emerges as the slugger we’d all hoped for

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2012, the Angels (at the behest of owner Arte Moreno) signed a guy named Albert Pujols to a staggering deal that would see Pujols collecting upwards of $30 million in the year 2021. In the years since, we’ve been treated to an aging and ailing former-MVP who struggles mightily to reach those lofty stats of his prime, but can still hit some dingers.

At the time of the signing, you’d think that the Halos had one thing in mind: a powerful slugging machine who can take care of 1B duties for the foreseeable future. Since then, however, Pujols’ feet have given out, and he’s fresh off of his first full season where he was primarily used at DH. All of a sudden, those dreams of a dominant first baseman are turned to dust, and we begin to just hope for a serviceable designated hitter out him.

As for first base, while one hope may have been dashed, a new one has risen. OK, maybe not “risen” but “is in the midst of rising”, because I’m of course talking about C.J. Cron.

Cron has been a favorite of mine to pin breakout season hopes upon for a couple years now, and it looks like it’s that time of year again, folks!

Do we see a breakout season in 2017 for C.J. Cron?

Cron was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, by then-GM Jerry Dipoto, and while he’s nowhere near being the type of player that can make you forget about all of Albert Pujols’ late-career shortcomings, he’s still been consistently getting better at his job with the team and improving at the plate. Cron legitimately has a shot at being the Halos’ premier slugger, while also commanding the ever-important 1B spot for the next few years.

C.J. Cron

2014 24 79 253 242 0.256 0.289 0.45 0.739 111
2015 25 113 404 378 0.262 0.3 0.439 0.739 106
2016 26 116 445 407 0.278 0.325 0.467 0.792 117

Cron’s BA over the past three seasons has been steadily climbing (.256 in ‘14, .262 in ‘15 and .276 in ‘16), as has his OBP (.289 in ‘14, .300 in ‘15 and .325 in ‘16), and while his SLG took a dip in 2015, it’s been gaining steam, as well (he slugged .450 in ‘14, .439 in ‘15 and .467 in ‘16). Meanwhile, while his slash line slightly increases each season, his strikeout rate has slightly declined each season (from 24.1% in ‘14 to 20.3% in ‘15 to 16.9% in ‘16).

Cron may not be turning into the meat-of-the-order hitter we’ve hoped for, yet, but he’s improving in all the areas you’d want. 2016 looked like the year where we begin to see the slugger emerge, but it was hindered by a hand injury in July, just when he was really heating up (17 RBIs and a .364 average in eight July games before going on the DL).

Cron, even with the missed time, still finished 4th on the team in fWAR (1.7) and considering how he’s incrementally improved over the last three seasons, and he’s now firmly entrenched at the first base bag, I often wonder if this coming season is when we’ll see some legitimately scary (in a good way) stats coming from Cron’s bat.

What would peak Cron even look like? I like to imagine him as Mark Trumbo, but with better plate discipline, less Ks and more walks. Cron, if healthy, is a guy that could not only takeover Pujols’ job defensively, but also usurp him as the Angels’ full time clean up hitter, where he bats a respectable .285 while floating around the .500 SLG mark and flirting with a .350 OBP.

I like to think with Cron, it’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”. So, is this the year for Cron? (If not, then NEXT year is totally going to be it, guys)