Cron, Bird could be joint solution at 1B

February 23rd, 2021

The 2020 season didn’t go well for first basemen and .

Cron missed most of the season with a left knee injury while with the Tigers. Bird didn’t play in the Majors because of a calf injury with the Rangers and a positive COVID-19 intake test with the Phillies.

Let’s say the Rockies know a little something about ’20 being a forgettable baseball season.

But if the right-handed-hitting Cron or the left-handed-hitting Bird, or both, can stay healthy and productive, the Rockies might have addressed a longtime problem by finding experience at a bargain.

Right-handed-hitting batted .306 last year and provided standout defense to usurp now-retired Daniel Murphy, but the signings of Cron and Bird suggest the Rockies envision a multiposition role for Fuentes, who plays third base and the outfield.

’s decision not to play this season made it conceivable that Cron, Bird and Fuentes all could make the Opening Day roster. Non-roster invitee Connor Joe, who had surgery for testicular cancer while with the Dodgers last year but is healthy, also is in the mix.

Rockies manager Bud Black has indicated Cron, 31, was signed for regular starts. The veteran comes in with a solid track record with the Angels, Rays, Twins and Tigers, and he has shown increased power with increased playing time.

Cron hit 30 home runs with the Rays in 2018 and then 25 with the Twins in ’19, despite being affected by a right thumb injury much of that season. Last year with the Tigers, Cron homered four times and had a .346 on-base percentage in 52 plate appearances before he was injured fielding a grounder. He had season-ending surgery.

Matthew Dirksen/Colorado Rockies

Cron has slugged .495 against lefty pitchers and .451 against righties. But in 2018, when he played regularly and was healthy, he bettered his career mark by slugging .467 against righties.

Early in his career with the Angels, Cron’s opportunities came either as a designated hitter or as a backup to Albert Pujols.

In 2019 and ’20, Cron dropped his chase rates to career-low levels, 32.5% and 28.2%, respectively, per Statcast.

“A flaw I had early on was recognizing the pitch,” Cron said. “But as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve seen guys and their pitches a little more regularly, I’m getting better at that. Last year was the best in my career. I had nine walks in 13 games, so I was seeing the ball well.”

This is the first time Cron has played in the National League, which gives him a chance to prove he’s not merely a designated hitter who wears a first baseman’s mitt every now and then.

“When you’re a young player and you come up playing behind a guy named Albert Pujols, the opportunity isn’t quite going to be there on the defensive side of the ball,” Cron said. “Albert’s a great guy. He helped me a lot, but he played first base, and it’s as simple as that.

“I’ve been playing OK defense over there for a little while now.”

Neither Cron nor Bird have a Major League at-bat at Coors. But Bird, 28, who played high school ball nearby at Grandview High School (with Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman) has memories.

“We played an exhibition game there -- we’d sell Rockies tickets and then play a game there,” Bird said, smiling. “Technically, it didn’t count, but my only inside-the-parker came there, so that’s a fun fact.

“I am by no means a burner. The left fielder dove and probably tripped chasing it, and that’s how I scored. Fun fact No. 2: Kevin Gausman was telling me to slide. He was at hitter at that time. Good times.”

Matthew Dirksen/Colorado Rockies

Bird’s fact sheet from four seasons with the Yankees (2015, ’17-19) reveals home run power -- 32 in 700 plate appearances. It also lists multiple injuries -- to his right shoulder to limit him in ’15 and cost him all of ’16, a right ankle surgery that required surgery in ’17, another ankle surgery in ’18 and left foot plantar fasciitis in ’19. Then came last year.

“There’s something to be learned from everything,” Bird said. “Early on, I thought I knew that. Obviously, I’ll continue to learn that.

“You have to find something good in the bad. That’s my mentality. I do think I’ve got a lot of good ball left in me. I’m just excited to go out and play.”

Doherty joins Major League staff
Black has added Tim Doherty, who spent five seasons as a Minor League hitting coach and the last three at Triple-A Albuquerque, to the staff as a Major League coach. Doherty served as hitting coach at Rookie-level Grand Junction in 2016 and Double-A Hartford in '17 and worked with many current Rockies during their development. The move is designed to add continuity, much like the promotion of Darryl Scott from the Minors to the Rockies’ bullpen coach position. In 2012, Doherty was the Red Sox’s assistant hitting coach under current Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan.