SALT LAKE CITY — C.J. Cron is back in town. Three years after earning All-America honors at the University of Utah, the first baseman is now in the professional ranks with the Salt Lake Bees.
“Driving in here, it was awesome,” said Cron, who noted that about the only change of scenery will be the dugout he’ll occupy. “The field looks beautiful like always. The mountains are beautiful. I’m just happy to be back.”
The 24-year-old prospect for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who was the organization’s first-round draft pick in 2011 (No. 17 overall), has made a steady climb through the minor leagues since turning pro. Cron began his career with the Orem Owlz in 2011, played for Inland Empire in 2012 and Arkansas in 2013. Now comes the jump to Triple-A ball.
When Cron was drafted by the Angels three years ago, he was well-aware that the organization’s top affiliate just happened to play in the same ballpark as the Utes. Cron recalls thinking how awesome it would be to come back to where he played college ball, see his old friends and stuff like that.
“It’s always a goal to play in the big leagues, obviously, but if you were to get sent down somewhere this is a good place to be sent,” said Cron, who had a feeling he probably wouldn’t make the Angels squad out of camp. “So hopefully as the year progresses — how I’m hoping it should — maybe that door can be open a little down the road.”
Cron hit .292 and drove in six runs over 24 at-bats with the big-league team in spring training. Good, but not good enough to earn an opening day job with the Angels.
“That guy in front of him is pretty good in Albert Pujols,” said Salt Lake Bees manager Keith Johnson.
Even so, the highly touted Cron could land a spot on the big league roster fairly soon, perhaps as a designated hitter. Johnson, though, said Cron will see a lot of action at first in Salt Lake. Consistency of approach at the plate will also be a focal point.
“Obviously, there’s still some development there. It’s his first year in Triple-A,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he gets off to a great start, but if he doesn’t he’s still going to be in the lineup. He’s going to be able to work through some things and hopefully continue his development to be an everyday major leaguer.”
Being in the familiar surroundings of Smith’s Ballpark, where the Bees open the season Thursday night against Sacramento, should make the process somewhat more smooth for Cron.
“It’s beneficial because the first year being in Triple-A a lot of times people come to this ballpark or this league and they think homer, homer, homer,” Johnson said. “For C.J. being a power hitter (who) is familiar with Utah, it’s going to make his transition a little easier because he not going to be a guy that’s going to have to try to create a whole lot.”
Johnson noted that Cron will know what to expect if he barrels the ball up.
When it comes to expectations, Cron said the name of the game is just improvement. That’s what the Angels are looking for.
“You’re always trying to improve. They don’t like when a player stays steady,” Cron said. “They want improvement. That’s what I’m here for — to get better and help the team win.”
Being able to do so at a great field where he’s used to the batter’s box and ready to go, Cron continued, is “pretty awesome.”
And there’s more to it. Cron has already been gone to lunch with a group of his Utah buddies and is even going to bunk with his old college roommate and former Ute teammate Jo Jo Sharrar during his stint with the Bees.
Then, there’s the just-one-step-away-from-playing-major-league-baseball thing.
“It’s close, man. But at the same time we’re not there yet,” Cron said. “You’ve got to do everything you can to kind of get there and kind of live the dream.”
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