Prospects for Angels, Dodgers likely targets of other teams' scouts
NEW YORK -- C.J. Cron and Joc Pederson proudly donned orange USA jerseys with their organization's caps on a steamy Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, playing in front of hundreds of scouts and tens of thousands of fans at the Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game.
Fitting that these two players -- top prospects with no apparent future for the Southern California organizations they represent -- would be starting in the ultimate showcase.
Cron is a first baseman on the Angels, who have Albert Pujols in the books through 2021 and Mark Trumbo still in his pre-arbitration years. Pederson is an outfielder on the Dodgers, who have four star-caliber players -- Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig -- locked up through at least 2017 and currently fighting for playing time.
"My goal is to make the big leagues," Cron said. "How I see it, there's 29 other teams, and I'm going to try to make it as tough on management to keep me down here as possible, whether it be to keep me down from this team or a different team."
"There's a lot of teams out there," Pederson said. "Maybe one of the teams wants you and maybe one of the teams wants someone that's up there. If you make enough noise here [in the Minors], then something can happen. That's all you're trying to do."
A little over a month ago, Pederson could almost taste the Majors. Kemp and Crawford were both nursing hamstring injuries, and by early June, the Dodgers -- nine games below .500 and 8 1/2 games out of first place after a June 2 loss in Colorado -- needed a spark from an outfielder.
There was some faint thought that perhaps Pederson, at that time the third-ranked prospect in their system, would be the guy. But it ended up being his Double-A teammate, Puig, who proceeded to turn around the Dodgers' season and capture the imagination of baseball fans all over the country.
"He deserves it," Pederson said. "He works hard and plays the game the right way."
Language barrier aside, Pederson and Puig got pretty close during their two-month stint together on the Chattanooga Lookouts. They still text back and forth, and Puig left Pederson's family tickets when the Dodgers visited AT&T Park in San Francisco recently.
"That's my hermano," Pederson said.
But Puig's fast start in the Majors -- .392/.424/.602 slash line in his first 37 games -- has created yet another obstacle in Pederon's path to the Majors with the Dodgers.
Pederson has done nothing but produce since being an 11th-round Draft pick out of Palo Alto High School in California three years ago. In 83 games this season, he's batting .296 with a .386 on-base percentage, 14 homers and 26 steals, despite recently missing eight days with a right oblique injury.
Some wonder if the 21-year-old left-handed hitter will transition to a corner outfield spot. Others suspect he'll eventually be typecast as a fourth outfielder.
Pederson believes he does a good job of tuning it all out.
"I kind of grew up like that," said Pederson, who hit a single, drew a walk and scored a run for the U.S. team in a 4-2 victory on Sunday. "I grew up loving baseball and always kind of trying to be the best player I could. I wasn't always the best, I'm still not the best; I still have a lot of work to do."
Cron and Pederson share another trait in common: A father who played in the Majors, albeit briefly.
Cron's dad, Chris, who manages the Tigers' Double-A affiliate in Erie, Pa., was asked to be on the U.S. team's coaching staff and never hesitated. It was his first chance to coach his son since the travel-ball days of high school.
"I wish there was a better adjective to use than just proud," Chris said, before watching his son go 1-for-3 with a single and a run scored as Team USA's cleanup hitter.
C.J. Cron joined the Angels with a torn labrum out of the University of Utah two years ago. He would have had it taken care of heading into 2012, but he needed knee surgery that offseason and couldn't do both. So he played with a banged-up shoulder at Class A Inland Empire, hitting 27 homers and driving in 123 runs -- one shy of the franchise's Minor League record -- before finally going under the knife with only a handful of games left in the season.
The 23-year-old right-handed slugger hasn't skipped a beat at Double-A this year, batting .287 with a .332 on-base percentage and, with a new sidearm motion, managing to play 80 of his 87 games at first base. He's hit only eight home runs, a dip in power that might have been a byproduct of having his shoulder surgically repaired, but he's nonetheless been among the best producers of a depleted farm system.
"I still have to improve on a lot of stuff," said Cron, the Angels' third-ranked prospect by MLB.com. "I want to be a complete player, and until I reach that, I'm not going to stop working. Hitting, defense, agility, footwork -- you name it, I'm working on it."
Cron, taken 17th overall in the 2011 Draft, is at the Futures Game one year after Ariel Pena and Jean Segura represented the organization. About three weeks after that 2012 showcase, Pena and Segura were dealt along with John Hellweg to the Brewers for Zack Greinke. And shortly after that, Segura established himself as one of the game's top young shortstops.
The likely scenario is that Cron doesn't get dealt this month. His value can still climb, and the Angels are too dangerously close to the Competitive Balance Tax Payroll to take on added salaries from a veteran player.
But there's a larger point here: If you're good enough to play in the big leagues, teams will give you an opportunity -- even if it isn't your own.
"Baseball is a weird sport," Cron said. "Things usually work out."