Pipeline names D-backs Prospects of the Year

September 19th, 2019

PHOENIX -- After two years of mashing his way through Pacific Coast League pitching, D-backs first baseman Kevin Cron finally got his first taste of the big leagues this year, but he’ll have to wait a little longer to get an extended look.

Cron, who has hit 60 homers over the past two seasons for Triple-A Reno, was named Arizona’s Minor League Hitter of the Year by MLB Pipeline while right-hander Levi Kelly took home top pitching honors.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.

A 14th-round pick by the D-backs in 2014, Cron has had to work for everything he’s gotten, hitting homers at every level as he moved up through the system.

In 2018 he hit 22 homers in 392 at-bats for Reno while slashing .309/.368/.554. However, when Cron looked back at his season, he wanted to cut down on his number of strikeouts (100) and increase his walk total (36).

With Christian Walker and Jake Lamb having entered this past Spring Training as the team’s first base combination, Cron was sent back to Reno where he put up even better numbers than the year before.

In 305 at-bats for Reno, he hit 38 homers and slashed .331/.449/.777 while striking out 77 times and drawing 61 walks.

A consistent approach to his preparation each day over the past two seasons is what Cron attributes his improvement to.

“I think that’s probably a big reason why the walks have been up the last few years and the strikeouts have gone down just a shade,” Cron said. “Those types of things are a product of continuing to do the same things over and over again, and when things are going bad it’s not a complete overhaul adjustment, it’s just getting back to normal, get back to what you do, your body knows what it’s doing, just trust it and be confident in that.”

Walker has put up good numbers this year so most of Cron’s time in the big leagues has been spent in a pinch-hit role, which is not an easy thing for a young player to adjust to.

“I think there’s a ton of bat speed and a ton of bat-to-ball skill there,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s going to get an opportunity here at some point. Whether it’s backend of this year or Spring Training to continue to grow and show us what he can do.”

Kelly, 20, was selected by the D-backs in the eighth round in 2018 and overmatched hitters in the Rookie-level Arizona League in four games after signing.

So while the D-backs don’t typically send a high school player in his first full season out to a full-season affiliate, they didn’t hesitate to have Kelly pitch for Class A Kane County this year.

“He definitely has advanced maturity,” D-backs assistant GM Jared Porter said. “Went to IMG Academy so kind of got some of that training early on from a mental statement. He just pitched his way out of Arizona. He was dominating here and he got a chance to go up there. His fastball and slider combination are elite. He has stuff to work on, a third pitch, consistency of that pitch, maybe getting some early-count contact, stuff like that. Certainly, though, the sky is the limit.”

Kelly made 22 starts for Kane County and was 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA allowing just 72 hits over 100 1/3 innings.

Some scouts pegged Kelly as a future reliever after the Draft, but the D-backs disagree. If he’s able to continue to improve his fastball command as well as develop a third pitch -- he currently is throwing a split-change -- Arizona sees him as a future big league starter.

“We think like all the young, starting pitching prospects he has stuff to work on and keep developing, but he has the natural ingredients to get swings and misses and to pitch deep into the game with plus stuff,” Porter said.