The stick? The stick won’t shut up. But getting C.J. Cron to talk shop, to wax poetic as to where all that thunder comes from? You’d have better luck squeezing blood from a stone.
“I was hitting with C.J. in the offseason and me and my dad (Chris) were talking hitting, like we normally would,” Kevin Cron, the younger brother of the Rockies’ slugging first baseman, recalled to The Post.
“My dad asked C.J. what he thought. And in a matter of words, C.J. said, ‘I don’t really like talking hitting. I just like to hit.’”
“’If we all hit the way we said we were going to or trying to, then we’d all be All-Stars.’”
“’There are a lot of good hitting talkers. Not as many good hitters.’”
“That always stuck with me as blunt but true,” Kevin continued. “C.J. is a hitter, not a talker. And I admire that about him.”
That hitter’s making a case — quietly — to be an All-Star. The Rockies’ lone representative at Dodgers Stadium in July just might be the big fish they landed on a minor-league deal 15 months ago.
“Around the league, when I talk to other managers, coaches, players, you know, they’ve been impressed by his play,” Rockies manager Bud Black said of Cron, who went into a snowy weekend series with the Mets at Coors Field leading the National League in home runs (10) and total bases (87).
“Not only with the bat but in the field. So he’s being noticed, I think, in that sort of vein. So that (All-Star talk is) a topic, I think, that’s for sure.”
These days, No. 25’s awfully hard to miss. Four players in Major League Baseball going into the weekend had at least 10 home runs and 30 RBI. Three of them played for first-place teams in New York: Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Pete Alonso of the Mets.
The fourth? C.J. Cron.
“The consistency of the at-bats here had been more than anywhere else (I’ve played),” Cron explained. “Especially in the second half (of 2021), I played pretty much every day. So just knowing when you’re going to be in a lineup, and playing first base in the middle of the order, it definitely helps quite a bit.”
The California native and former Utah Utes star ranked among Baseball-Reference.com’s top 5 National League sluggers in metrics such as WAR for position players (fifth), Runs Created (third) and Win Probability Added (second) going into the weekend.
When old stats and new stats agree on a consensus, you’re staring at something special.
Cron’s making a case as the franchise’s best first baseman since Todd Helton hung up his spikes. And if you need a number to back that argument up, here’s a big one:
Over his first 614 at-bats with the Rockies, Cron’s posted 38 home runs, 120 RBIs, hit .290 and recorded an OPS — on-base percentage + slugging — of .920.
The last Rox regular at first base to produce a .900 OPS or better over a single season other than Cron last year? Helton, the standard on Blake Street, all the way back in 2009.
So yeah — the All-Star game? If this pace keeps up, why not?
“Oh my gosh, you’re hitting me with a mind-scrambler, right out of the gate,” MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa told The Post when asked about Cron’s All-Star bona fides.
“You’ve got Freddie Freeman (of the Dodgers) there … Josh Bell for the Nationals has been really good. Certainly, C.J. has been one of the bright spots of the start of the 2022 season.”
“Can’t think of a better fit”
Cron’s been one of the biggest bargains in baseball over the past 24 months, too.
And one half of what, so far, feels like the perfect baseball marriage — a franchise (the Rockies) that couldn’t land a stellar bat at first base paired with a slugger (Cron) who was looking for a landing spot, with playing time, that he could turn into a launchpad.
Despite averaging 28 home runs in 2018 and 2019 for Tampa Bay and Minnesota, respectively, only one team in the winter of 2020-’21 — the Rockies — called Cron, a first-round draft pick by the Angles in 2011, with a promise of the at-bats he’d been pining for.
Although he’d have to do it the hard way, via a one-year, $1-million minor-league contract — the ultimate prove-it carrot dangling at the end of a short stick.
“I had a call with Buddy,” Cron recalled. “We knew each other pretty well (in Anaheim), and he said he wanted me to come here and play first base for him. Once (I) kind of got that comfort, it was an easy decision for me.”
Kevin, who’s playing professionally in Korea, and Chris, a former big-leaguer who’s currently the assistant hitting coach with Oakland, have their theories as to why 29 other teams missed the boat. Why C.J. had to find his fifth franchise in five seasons.
There was the injury to the slugger’s left knee cap in 2020 with Detroit which limited him to just 52 plate appearances during the pandemic season. There were the walks — or rather, the lack thereof, early in his career.
“It’s always a ‘surprise’ whenever they’re talking about C.J. Cron,” Chris Cron chuckled. “Well, he’s been around. You were not going to take Albert Pujols’ job (in Anaheim). The computers didn’t really like him and what he did, so he had to just bounce around. And his perseverance and his willingness to kind of grind it out is what makes him who he is.”
“He always hit the baseball,” stressed DeRosa. “And then what happens is, you bring in Albert Pujols (to the Angels) and now you’re driving into the yard (every day) not knowing … ‘Am I the DH? Am I not playing?’…Finally, he has found kind of his niche on a team that respects what he does.”
So much so, that after Cron put up 28 homers, 92 RBIs and a .905 OPS last season on a “prove-it” deal, the Rockies rewarded him with a two-year deal worth a reported $14.5 million. And, after a quarter of the season, that contract’s starting to look like a stone-cold bargain, too.
“I can’t think of a better fit,” offered former big-league catcher Chad Moeller, one of Cron’s cousins and now a coach in greater Phoenix.
“Bud’s stuck with him and run him out there. I guess you could say he’s rewarded them for it. Or he’s just done what he’s honestly always done.”
“It’s kind of cool”
Cron’s been through this early All-Star talk before, too.
The Rockies’ first baseman was a finalist on the American League ballot at first with the Twins three years ago, along with Cleveland’s Carlos Santana and the Yankees’ Luke Voit. He finished third and didn’t get named to the final squad.
“He was never going to win that, wherever he went, honestly, over the (other) guys,” Chris Cron laughed. “But it was kind of cool at the time. And it’s kind of cool now.
“From that standpoint, he’s living his dream, as good as he’s ever had it, right now.”
Now that he’s nearing the top of the mountain, on several levels, Cron isn’t thinking about the rare air from the penthouse view. Or the long climb, the slips and the comebacks, along the way.
“Yeah, (the All-Star game) would be cool, for sure,” the Rockies first baseman said.
“But so much of that, I think, is kind of really out of my control. Yes, I’m trying to help the team win. And trying to drive in runs for us. All that (external) stuff, to me, is — I don’t know if it’s something I can control. So I don’t put much stock into it.”
With that, Cron gets quiet, shakes your hand, and heads back down the tunnel to the home clubhouse, back to work. Talking about it won’t change a darn thing. The stick’s said plenty already.
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