In 9th season, Cron receives 1st All-Star nod

Slugging first baseman set to represent Rockies in Los Angeles on July 19

July 10th, 2022

PHOENIX -- C.J. Cron’s early part of his career was spent with -- and often behind -- star first baseman Albert Pujols. Now, after years of waiting, bouncing around and sometimes getting hurt, Cron will be alongside Pujols.

Cron will represent the Rockies on the National League squad in the 92nd All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on July 19. It will be Cron’s first Midsummer Classic. It’ll also be Pujols’ 11th and last, having been named a legacy selection along with the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera for the American League.

“I was obviously drafted as a first baseman [in the first round in 2011 by the Angels], and the first offseason, they signed [Pujols] to a 10-year contract,” Cron said. “But also being a teammate and taking ground balls with one of the best to ever play the game, you learn so much from that. When they traded me to Tampa for my first time getting an opportunity, I’d just learned so much from him.

“I don’t know if I’d be here without the whole situation. So it all worked out perfectly.”

So have Cron’s two seasons with the Rockies.

After four seasons with the Angels and one each with the Rays, Twins and Tigers, Cron signed with the Rockies on a Minor League deal before the 2021 season, but with an eye toward him becoming their regular first baseman.

Slowed by a back injury early last year, Cron ignited in the second half and finished with 28 home runs, a .905 OPS and a career-high .281 batting average. Colorado re-signed Cron for two years and $14.5 million, and he has responded by hitting .295 with team highs in home runs (20) and OPS (.901) in 84 games this season.

Cron had played in every game before sitting out Saturday and not starting Sunday with a left wrist contusion, the result of being hit by a pitch Friday night. He should return soon.

Cron, 32, has been the Rockies’ most consistent offensive performer. Kris Bryant missed much of the first half with a back injury. Brendan Rodgers and Charlie Blackmon have overcome slow starts and figure to help the rest of the year.

Cron insisted he had more on his mind than this midseason honor.

“I'm so focused at-bat to at-bat,” Cron said. “I just want to help the team win. I want to be productive in the middle of the order. I want to drive the ball and drive in runs. It's been OK just to start the season. I can do a little bit better, still.”

Rockies manager Bud Black met Cron while working as a special assistant to the general manager with the Angels in 2015. Cron became available after the ‘20 season, when he sustained a left knee injury and was limited to 13 games for Detroit. Black pushed for Colorado to sign him.

“Other teams were on him, and there were other teams that were going to put him on the 40-man roster,” Black said. “I don't know exactly how all those conversations went with other clubs, but he signed with us as a non-roster guy, being told that he was going to be given a really good chance to compete to be an everyday player, which is what he wanted. He’s followed up with performance.

“What he brings to the team is not only talent and performance, but a leadership quality that I've seen from him that maybe wasn't there early in his career. He’s taken it upon himself as more of a veteran player to do that. It's great to see those types of things.”

Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt’s relationship with the Cron family goes back to before C.J. was born. C.J.’s father, current A’s assistant hitting coach Chris Cron, played at Santa Ana College and was dating his eventual wife, Linda, in the early 1980s, when Schmidt was an assistant coach.

Chris and Linda’s son enjoyed his opportunity last year with the Rockies so much that last July talks began about an extension. Even with various corner-infield products who can play first base, Cron will be a key piece of the Rockies’ lineup throughout the contract. And with the designated hitter in the NL, there is a chance Cron will be in Colorado beyond the current deal.

“He said he really enjoys Colorado and the Rockies’ organization and wants to be part of it,” Schmidt said. “The bottom line is C.J. didn’t want to be traded. And at the end of the season, we were able to work out something that keeps him here for a couple of years. And that’s not to say we won’t look beyond that in the future. I think C.J. has got a lot of good baseball left in him.”