Two-way threat Cronenworth impressing Tingler

February 29th, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For Padres prospect , baseball, even at the Major League level, is not a game of either pitching or hitting -- it’s both.

Acquired in December from Tampa Bay in the deal that also netted the Padres outfielder , Cronenworth slotted in as the team’s No. 17 prospect in 2019 per MLB Pipeline. But the goal of being a highly touted prospect is to eventually crack a Major League roster, and for Cronenworth, his multi-faceted abilities as a shortstop and a pitcher have put him on the precipice of doing so.

‘I’ve seen a lot of things that are impressive,” manager Jayce Tingler said of Cronenworth’s abilities. “The way he plays defense -- [he can] probably play all four infield spots. He’s had really good at-bats; he blends in well with the group. His bullpens have been going well and I think, being able to pitch and play the field, that’s a credit to his talent.”

That all-encompassing nature is the crux of Cronenworth’s game. At Triple-A last season for Tampa Bay, he hammered the ball to the tune of a .334/.429/.520 slash line, accruing 40 extra-base hits. He led the International League in both batting average and on-base percentage, finishing third in OPS. On the hill, he worked 7 1/3 innings without yielding an earned run, striking out nine and allowing four hits while working primarily as an opener.

But despite that success, Cronenworth had never operated as a two-way player before -- until this offseason.

“I started throwing in about January,” he said. “Usually, my throwing program as a position player is very similar to what I was doing as a pitcher anyways, so there wasn’t much disparity between what I’ve been doing in the past and now.”

The new rules unveiled by Major League Baseball surrounding player designation mean that Cronenworth would only be eligible to pitch during extra innings or with at least a seven-run margin in either direction. (To qualify for two-way status in 2020, like the Angels' Shohei Ohtani has, players must have accrued both 20 or more Major League innings pitched, and 20 games started as a position player or designated hitter in which three plate appearances were recorded in either ‘18 or ’19.) With that hurdle looming, conventional thinking may lead some to believe that Cronenworth should focus on just being a hitter ... but the 26-year-old has no plans of abandoning the rubber.

“I think it just creates maybe a little bit better of an opportunity for me,” Cronenworth said. “Playing every position and trying to do the best that I can in each spot, I think that helps a little bit.”

Giving both the batter’s box and the pitching rubber a shot simultaneously is no one-off in the Rays organization. While Cronenworth had never pitched professionally prior to last season, the team has been employing its 2017 first-round Draft choice, Brendan McKay, as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman as he has risen the organization’s ranks.

Now with a new organization, Cronenworth says that San Diego has let him prepare for both.

“It’s very similar,” he said. “A lot of it is kind of up to me on how I prepare. We have a plan in place with the pitching coaches here, but it’s very similar.”

While Cronenworth isn’t expected to make his spring pitching debut for at least another week, Tingler did confirm that the right-hander was working with the coaching staff to build up his arm strength for Cactus League action.

“He’s still got a couple more bullpens [and] live BP’s to get to,” he said.

The fascination with a player being so skilled that he can succeed on both the mound and at the plate at the game’s highest level remains. But from Cronenworth’s perspective, it’s much simpler:

“[I’m] just trying to put my best foot forward and trying to impact the team somehow.”