SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — You don’t have to look hard to find Kevin Cron on the field.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he’s the Arizona Diamondbacks’ prospect towering over everybody else over at first base. Or, if you get to the ballpark during pre-game batting practice, he’ll be the massive guy hitting ball after ball out onto the left-center field berm 400 feet from home plate.
A couple of towering rainmakers will leave him etched in your mind, but it’s not just BP where he’s dropped bombs. Across Cron’s three-year career, he’s hit 65 long balls in 318 games, including 27 homers in 2015 with High-A Visalia, and 26 more in 2016 with Double-A Mobile.
That power has him planted in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, one of the D-backs’ charges sent to the prestigious offseason circuit to show off his talents among the best prospects in baseball, and it’s here, with the Salt River Rafters, that Cron has continued what he started the last couple years. In 16 games through Wednesday, he has three homers and two doubles in 63 at-bats, and is slugging .365 even though he’s been slow so far in the AFL, hitting just .190.
It’s rare for a minor leaguer to show off a plus power stroke in back-to-back seasons to the degree Cron did the last two years in the D-backs’ organization. And it’s Cron, then, that makes for an interesting case study in how to hit home runs in the minors; countless players all summer and into the fall have spoken at length about the importance of being patient and waiting for power to come, and yet for Cron, that power has always been here.
Is it just because he’s a big guy?
“Honestly, I don’t think hitting a home run has anything to do with your size,” Cron told FanRag Sportd before a Salt River game. “Obviously, it helps, I’m not going to lie. But I might get three or four cheap home runs based off my size alone, and the other 20 to 25, those need to come from putting good swings on good pitches to hit, you know? You’re not going to luck your way into hitting 25 home runs a year, whether you’re my size or you’re a smaller guy.”
“I mean, look, there are a lot of smaller guys in the big leagues like [Dustin] Pedroia that can put away 20 a year, so I don’t think size has much to do with it other than those five or so cheap ones you might get a year,” he continued. “It’s about getting your pitch and putting a good swing on it. And that’s why it seems like everybody in the big leagues nowadays can go get 15, 20 home runs. It’s not because they are suddenly getting bigger and taller, it’s because they understand how to take an approach, and they understand how to put good swings on good pitches. That’s the type of game we are living in now, and I’m sure for those guys just like for me, it comes down to staying with an approach and knowing what you do well.”
There’s quite a bit to unpack here; first, Cron’s assertion about everybody in the big leagues seemingly being able to hit ’15, 20 home runs’ is correct, at least in the broadest sense considering homers are up and we’re living something of an age of feast or famine at the plate. The takeaways from that are enormous, but most broadly, it’s easy to see the ability to reach back for power—regardless of position or spot in lineup—is becoming far more highly valued among organizations.
Second, it’s probably no coincidence that—unprompted—Cron called out Pedroia by name just as other minor leaguers have done weeks, and leagues, apart. To hear big, strong, physically-imposing hitters point out that little guys can drop bombs, too, should be a tip-off that size isn’t everything. It helps, sure, but swing mechanics, launch angle, bat speed… far more variables of far more importance can bring home runs than just being good ol’ country-boy strong.
It’s Cron’s final sentence (“…it comes down to staying with an approach and knowing what you do well”) that is probably the most important part of his success in hitting the long ball thus far in his career.
To look at Cron just once, you know he’s not a speedster, a hit-for-average talent, or a significant on-base threat (save the walks he’ll inevitably draw in pitch-around situations). It’s critical Cron himself knows that, and he does. Taken further, the light switch flipped on for him in recognizing that a line drive single on a decent pitch isn’t necessarily preferable to taking it, in the hopes of getting an even better pitch to drive out of the park later in an at-bat.
“I’m not a guy that is going to hit the ball on the ground and beat stuff out,” Cron said, laughing. “To that end, I think the biggest thing you continue to learn when you move up is who you are as a player. You need to know who you are and how you can help your team. My role on the team this year was to drive in runs, and while I didn’t have the other numbers there with the average and the on-base percentage, I did my job in that aspect. That’s what I needed to do on that team, and once you find out what you need to do, it makes things a little bit easier. I think I learned a lot about who I am as a player, and what my ceiling might be [after 2016].”
Knowing who you are in this game might be one of the most important, underrated aspects of finding success in pro ball. Not every player is destined to have the same career, and not every position is created equally; the quicker that utility infielders understand their ceiling, the better things go for them. The more honest fringe prospects can be with themselves, the better they can adjust their expectations and find success on their new path. The sooner players can atone for (big) one-off mistakes, and move past it, the sooner they can readjust to their newfound standing in an organization. And for guys like Cron, the sooner one can take honest, consistent stock of how they must approach their physical capabilities and role, the better off they’ll be.
To Cron, that comes down to one idea: consistency in approach. A power hitter like Cron isn’t going to be asked to bunt very often, or move a hitter over from second to third with a ground ball to the right side, but consistency in approach goes even beyond that: No matter the pitcher, no matter the situation, it’s Cron’s job to look for one pitch and focus on one thing—driving the ball hard, in the air, to the outfield. And in that approach, it’s also Cron’s job to sometimes sacrifice good pitches—ones that he could, say, hit for a line drive single—to wait for what he hopes will be better pitches that he can drive into a gap, or out of the ballpark.
“Having my approach and not straying from it, not swinging outside my zone, even being willing to sacrifice certain pitches that are strikes in order to get myself into position to get that one pitch I really want and not miss it, that’s been a learning curve for me,” he said. “That’s what those guys at the big league level do. They have one approach and they never stray from it, no matter what they are trying to do or how they are facing. Obviously, they know in the back of their head what pitchers are trying to do to them, and what the pitchers’ strengths are, but their approach doesn’t change.”
“I’ve had an approach my whole life, and obviously as you see different teams pitching you different ways you have to adjust, but as far as the overall scheme of your approach, you can’t back down on that,” Cron continued. “That’s all you have to hang your hat on. Approach is everything, and if you go into a game one day having one approach, and another game the next day having another approach, you’re not going to have much success. So the big thing for me was finding what approach worked for me, and not straying from that approach.”
With all this approach talk—especially for a slugger with plus power like Cron—will inevitably come strikeouts. It’s the Adam Dunn effect, in a way. Cron has work to do on walking at greater rates as he ages, but he’s thus far proven the beginning of at least two of those true outcomes between the home runs the last two years (27 in 2015, 26 in 2016) and the strikeouts in those same summers (131 and 134 whiffs, respectively, across 518 at-bats and 465 at-bats). Put simply, to do what Cron does, you have to put up with a lot of swing-and-miss in certain situations; and thus, it comes down to not necessarily minimizing strikeouts in total, but cutting down on them in specific, critical situations with runners on base.
“Obviously the game has evolved, and power is a big part of the game, and I’m lucky enough to be blessed with God-given power so I can overcome those numbers,” Cron acknowledged about the strikeouts. “Nobody likes to strike out, and nobody likes to have un-productive at-bats, but what I’ve learned is that I am going to strike out, and I am probably going to strike out more than most of my teammates. At that point, it becomes about minimizing the bad strikeouts. Even further, it means not swinging at pitches outside of what I am trying to do, especially early in the count, and not putting pitches into play for soft outs that I shouldn’t be swinging at in the first place.”
That takes remarkable patience, especially with a young hitter like Cron who hasn’t yet played higher than Double-A, and doubly so against pitchers that keep getting better and more refined at each successive level. But patience at the plate—and more pointedly, narrowing in on one specific approach and key to hit for power—can more or less be taught through repetition and experience, and Cron has the maturity necessary going for him there in addition to his unquestionable physical tools.
All this maturity and experience talk aside, though, it’s refreshing to hear Cron’s take on how to drive pitches and pick his spots, because it’s an incredibly simple testament to how easy one can make this game if they stick to their strengths.
“More than focusing on cutting back the strikeouts, it’s getting my pitch, no matter what count, and treating them all as counts where I can drive my pitch,” he said. “I like to go up there and almost treat every pitch like it’s a 3-0 count. Obviously, with two strikes, you’ve got to battle your butt off, but I try to step up there like every count is 3-0, and I’m looking for one pitch in one place.”
“And my plate discipline has taken a step up,” he admitted about his maturing approach. “It’s still not where it needs to be, but throughout the second half of the season and now the AFL, it has improved. I think it is because of being willing to only hit a pitch I can drive, and being willing to give up the pitches I can’t hit very well early in the count. That’s something that has helped me astronomically, and it’s something I think is going to carry me further in my career, and hopefully one day get me to the big leagues.”
That remains to be seen, though Cron is certainly on the right path, and armed with a high-value skill in that power bat. Above all, though, it’s an interesting look into what makes a power hitter tick. Should his approach continue to mature like he hopes it will, it would seem Cron is on track to be a true plus power hitter in the big leagues one day very soon.
The post D-backs’ Kevin Cron knows exactly what’ll get him to the big leagues appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.