Hitting is often overly deconstructed and overanalyzed, as anyone who watches YouTube videos or pays for instruction can tell you. Yet, as Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron is demonstrating, it is as simple as learning for yourself.
“I wanted to utilize what I thought was the best part of my swing, which was my hands,” Cron said.
Hard work led him to a beautifully simple philosophy, one that from joining the Rockies before last season through Monday (when he homered in a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers) has produced 48 home runs and a .905 OPS.
Even as a longtime part-time player, Cron managed solid numbers playing behind Albert Pujols with the Angels, and had big home-run seasons with the Rays (30 in 2018) and Twins (25 in ’19).
If he wanted, Cron could take you so deep into mechanics and so far into the numbers that you’d never escape. His father, Chris Cron, is the Athletics’ assistant hitting coach and has a long background in the subject, and his brother, Kevin, plays first base for SSG Landers in Korea. C.J. Cron also learned quite a bit from his days playing for the Rays, a most-analytical bunch.
But starting in 2020, when he played just 13 games with the Tigers (and knocked four homers) before a knee injury scuttled his year, the approach of trusting his hands led to changes in his setup and swing that have made him a dangerous middle-of-the-lineup bat.
First, though, look at Cron’s Sept. 2, 2018, homer for the Rays at Cleveland. In his stance, the front shoulder is facing the pitcher. Also, he has a short, low stride toward the ball.
He carried the same swing to the Twins in ’19.
Still, he wanted more. By his debut with the Tigers in ’20, he had turned toward the pitcher in his stance, and added a higher leg kick to improve his timing.
The goals were to see pitches better and longer, and give him the opportunity to adjust his hands to the pitch. The result is the ability to hit hard to the pull side or to the opposite field. The injury with the Tigers occurred before the adjustments had a chance to take in games, although his .346 on-base percentage in 52 plate appearances served as a foreshadow. But he blossomed with the Rockies.
Two statistical categories show how the changes made him a more complete hitter. Cron batted .281 last season -- 18 points higher than any previous season. He posted a .375 on-base percentage, after not clearing .322 in a full and healthy season.
The key was becoming an all-fields hitter. Last year, the homers and hits went everywhere.
This year, just two of his homers going into Tuesday were to the opposite field. But the hits chart and his batting average show he is using the entire diamond.
And, as he showed with a 486-foot homer on June 17 at home against the Padres, on a night he homered twice, Cron can still drive balls a long way.
Cron’s power was enough to earn him opportunities, even if he had to bounce around for a few years. By showing power and becoming a more complete hitter, he earned his first multi-year contract -- two years and $14.5 million with the Rockies, signed at the end of last season.
It’s all because Cron found himself, and decided not to be anyone but himself.
“If you just look at my stance now, not many people hit like that,” Cron said. “So, it's obviously different. But I wasn't afraid to be different up there. I think I kind of just thought to myself, what am I best at? And I kind of just tinkered from there.”
Who holds the Rockies’ record for most RBIs before the All-Star break?
A.) Vinny Castilla
B.) Preston Wilson
C.) Larry Walker
D.) Todd Helton
UREÑA FINISHED WITH THE BUILDUP
Rushed because he signed late in Spring Training and pitching for a team that didn’t truly have a spot for him, righty José Ureña had his moments with the Brewers at the start of the year -- a 3.52 ERA in 7 2/3 innings, but five walks against three strikeouts.
After the 30-year-old Ureña was released when rosters were reduced, he signed a Minor League contract with the Rockies and went through a proper buildup to his next chance, which comes on Wednesday in a start against the Dodgers. The Rockies need him with righty Antonio Senzatela on the injured list with a right shoulder strain and their main depth pitcher, rookie Ryan Feltner, on the IL with a right rhomboid strain.
The Rockies had Ureña, who previously pitched for the Marlins and Tigers, work at the team’s complex in Scottsdale before giving him nine games (five starts) at Triple-A Albuquerque. The numbers weren’t impressive (0-1, 6.28 ERA), but the context is that he is a veteran receiving a full Spring Training.
“We built him up over about a month, an extra inning at a time,” Albuquerque manager Warren Schaeffer said. “He’s a big-time competitor. He mixes his pitches well with his offspeed stuff and runs his heater up to 98 [mph].
“He’s best when he is throwing that sinking fastball and letting his offspeed play off it. He’s a pro in how he takes care of himself.”
Every team has that player -- the young guy fans want in the lineup and react strongly when he isn’t. Corner infielder Elehuris Montero, the team's No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, holds that spot with the Rockies. He didn’t start the first two games in Los Angeles. Before his last start, Sunday at home against the D-backs, he sat for three games.
Montero is 5-for-27 in the Majors with one walk and 11 strikeouts in nine well-spaced appearances. He’s still developing at third and first base, so his pregame consists of heavy work with third-base coach Stu Cole on fundamentals. So, he is busy, even if not in a game. But there is that question: Is this better than game action at Albuquerque, where he has slashed .327/.395/.563 in 53 games?
“It's good for a player -- and I'll speak generally to all players, not just Montero,” manager Bud Black said. “It’s good for him to be here in a big league environment, to see what the everyday processes [are], even though he’s not starting a game, to see how a big league game goes. It’s good for him to get on our airplanes and travel, see how that’s different from the Minor Leagues. I think it’s good for him to set foot in Dodger Stadium, or Coors Field, or Chase Field, get in the batting cage, look at the backdrop, see the ballpark, see Julio Urías, see [Brusdar] Graterol, to watch them.
“So I think it’s a positive. Now, there comes a point where, if he doesn’t see a ton of at-bats over a month or two months, and once he’s experienced all the things I just mentioned, it’s probably best that the player plays.”
While Mike Hampton’s signing in December 2000 is considered a franchise-changing gaffe, always remember that it started well. Not only did Hampton earn an All-Star Game invitation in ’01, but he earned a Silver Slugger Award as the National League’s best-hitting pitcher. A rare right-handed hitter who threw left, Hampton was a threat with the bat -- but he never homered until joining the Rockies.
On June 5, 2001, he went deep in consecutive at-bats against the Astros’ Wade Miller.
On June 10, against the Cardinals’ Dustin Hermanson, Hampton homered in his third-straight at-bat.
B.) Preston Wilson
Wilson drove in 91 runs before the break in 2003. An All-Star that year, he led the National League with 141 RBIs.
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