May 7, 2014
The Situation: Key injuries and a lack of production have tested the Angels’ internal depth, and the team is now turning to C.J. Cron (the no. 3-ranked prospect in the system entering 2014) in hopes that he can fill the void.
Background: With their first-round selection (no. 17 overall) in the 2011 draft, the Angels opted to go the safe route, taking Cron, an advanced college bat with a history of performance. From the day Cron entered pro ball, talent evaluators labeled the Utah University product a designated hitter, alluding to his lack of defensive value while simultaneously putting enormous pressure on the bat. Despite his college polish, the Angels have taken it slowly with Cron, with annual promotions up the minor league ranks. He stumbled some in Double-A last year but put up a .319/.369/.602 slash line in 28 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
The Scouting: The 24-year-old’s prospect status is completely dependent on his raw power. Fortunately for Cron, he’s not lacking at all in that department, as his barbaric strength allows him to draw 80-grade raw power evaluations from talent evaluators. Cron is a very large human being, and he’s capable of sending tape-measure shots out of any ballpark during batting practice.
Cron’s biggest challenge will be translating that ability to drive the ball in BP into in-game performance and proving that he’s more than just a five o’clock hitter at the highest level. His questionable hit tool prevents his raw power from having the utility it would in the abstract.
At the plate, Cron displays an approach fueled by a see-ball-hit-ball mentality. His uncontrolled aggression puts him behind in counts more often than not, where he then is forced to change his approach and focus more on putting the ball in play rather than focusing on finding a pitch that he can convert into a souvenir. Pitchers can capitalize on Cron’s discomfort against same-sided pitching and his inability to protect the entire plate. Most large hitters struggle to protect the inner third of the plate without having to cheat for it, but Cron’s plate coverage issues stem from his failure to cover the outer half of the plate.
It’s difficult to see how Cron can provide value anywhere outside of the batter’s box. It certainly won’t be on the bases, as Cron is a lumbering runner with poor pure speed. Once labeled solely as a bat-only prospect, Cron has made strides with the glove, but he still grades out as a fringe-average defender at first base with limited range.
Immediate Impact: Overall, this is a difficult tool set to get excited about, but teams place a high value on right-handed power. As a result, Cron should be able to carve out a role on the roster in the Mark Trumbo mold: a designated hitter who can hit southpaws and spell Albert Pujols at first base when called upon. But in order for that to happen, he’ll need to deliver at least 60-grade power during games. The current plan may be to give Cron just a taste of the major leagues until Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun return from injuries. However, the 24-year-old will have every opportunity to turn borrowed time into an extended stay. —Ron Shah
Fantasy Impact: There is a certain population of minor leaguers who draw far more interest in fantasy circles than in real life, which often leads to an undervalued asset in dynasty leagues. However, Cron is an interesting case in that his statistics have always been more attractive than the scouting reports, so what should be an area for fantasy arbitrage turns out to be more of a wash.
As of right now, Cron’s chance to get regular at-bats is still up in the air, with Raul Ibanez still hanging onto some playing time at DH (even with his .519 OPS) and Pujols doing Pujols things at first base. There’s a better than reasonable chance that Cron outperforms Ibanez while he's up and causes the Angels to make a more permanent roster move, but even if that does happen, his playing-time potential would be diluted by a bevy of veterans and injury recoverees who will need some days off from the field. In the best-case scenario, Cron could get 400 at-bats (possibly in 420 plate appearances, in light of what will likely be a very poor walk rate) and hit .260 with 15 homers and more RBI than he probably deserves given his slash line.
The combination of limited upside (despite his gaudy Triple-A numbers thus far), a difficult home park, and a tough division makes Cron a wait-and-see option in all but the deepest of mixed leagues. In 16-team leagues with a corner infield spot, he could be worth the add if you have a bench spot available. Cron gets a large demerit in on-base percentage leagues, as a .260 average for him could be accompanied by a .280 OBP. In AL-only leagues, he's likely to go for $8-10, but I'd advise against bidding much higher than that. He'll tick up in a 4x4, since he won't score many runs, but only by a modest amount. Finally, in dynasty leagues, he should be owned in anything deeper than 12-team mixed. In those shallower formats, the potential payoff isn't worth the roster spot right now. —Bret Sayre
Ron Shah is an author of Baseball Prospectus.