The first thing you notice about Kevin Cron is his size.
“He’s huge,” Reno Aces teammate Tim Locastro said.
He's so big his older brother, C.J. – a six-year big-league veteran who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds – marvels at Kevin's size.
“He’s like 6-foot-6,” C.J. recently said. “Way bigger than me.”
Officially, Kevin Cron is listed at 6-5 and 250 pounds. In Major League history, only 51 players listed at 250-plus pounds have reached the big leagues. But the way Cron has been hitting this season, that number should soon grow by one. And Cron is not a soft 250 pounds. It’s all muscle mass, as the 21 balls he has smashed out of Triple-A parks in 43 games this season could attest, most of them being titanic blasts.
“It’s ridiculous,” Locastro said. “The balls that he hits, they’re not cheap home runs. It’s pretty special watching him hit. Today in (batting practice) he hit one over the batters’ eye and all I could say was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s just crazy how far he can hit the ball.”
Cron is crushing home runs at a record pace. Through his first 43 games, Cron is hitting .335 with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (32). He’s posted a 1.240 OPS and his 21 home runs put him on pace for 65, which would break Tony Lazzeri’s Pacific Coast League record of 60 in 1925 (over 197 games, whereas the PCL now uses a 140-game schedule). But the way Cron is hitting the ball, he might not be around Reno for long as he’s doing everything possible to get the call to the big leagues.
“Obviously the ultimate goal is to play in the big leagues and stay there for a long time,” said Cron, who leads minor-league baseball in homers. “Everybody at this level and even the lower levels is waiting for that call and they’re expecting it and they’re expecting themselves to have success and prove they’re worthy of that. But at the same time, there are things that are out of your control and things you can’t really focus on. At the same time, I can’t say that there’s not times where you’re asking yourself, ‘What is there I could do more in order to help my cause?’ It’s not anything against the decisions. It’s more, ‘How can I continue to improve to make that decision easier for the people making those decisions?’”
Just keep hitting, has been the advice given to him by his father, Chris, who also happens to be his manager with the Aces. Chris Cron, a relatively small 6-2 compared to his sons, made it to the big leagues and played in 12 games for the Angels from 1991-92. His sons have out-done him. C.J. was a first-round pick in 2011 who debuted with the Angels in 2014 and has hit 101 homers during six big-league seasons.
Kevin also was selected in that 2011 draft, in the third round by the Seattle Mariners after he whacked 52 homers in 69 games during his junior and senior seasons at Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix. But instead of signing a professional deal, Cron turned down a sizable signing bonus to play college ball for TCU.
A back injury cost him time as a freshman (.338, six homers), a slump hit him as a sophomore (.208, two homers) and while he raised his profile with a solid junior campaign (.279, six homers), his stock was still relatively low when his hometown team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, nabbed him in the 14th round in 2014.
“It was a great learning experience,” Chris said of Kevin’s time at TCU. “When anybody goes to college, you learn to grow up. He did that. He met his wife. The baseball, he didn’t succeed as much as he would have liked at TCU, but he did reach his dream of playing in the College World Series and he got drafted again. It kind of wore on him that he went through these struggles and turned down some nice money, but nobody makes any money in this game unless you get to the big leagues. Hopefully he gets to the big leagues and fulfills that dream of everything that’s involved in it, and money is part of that. You have to go through a lot of failures in this game and in life, and he did that earlier in his career and learned what it was like to fail and overcome that over time because you always have those bumps in the road.”
Since becoming a pro, all Cron has done is hit, rising from the rookie league to Triple-A in five seasons. He hit at least 22 home runs in each of the four seasons proceeding this one, but Cron has taken things to another level this year. After a strong spring training with the big-league club, Cron has destroyed the PCL.
Following a slow start (two homers in his first 10 games), Cron has 19 bombs in his last 33 contests. In 19 games in May, he has 10 homers with 20 runs scored and 29 RBIs and more walks (14) than strikeouts (13).
“It’s been extremely enjoyable from a dad’s standpoint,” Chris said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and him to be together. He’s been a baseball kid his whole life and now we’re taking it to the extreme of manager-player. It’s been off the charts, and I hope it continues. He’s having a heck of a year and hopefully there’s a day I call him into the office and tell him he’s going to the big leagues.”
Chris Cron noticed his son’s prodigious power early – “When he was 5 or 6,” he said. Cron could tell his son was going to be a big kid, some baby fat being stuck to his growing frame. They got their school work done, of course, Chris said, “but all we really did was hit.” Kevin was in a baseball uniform before his first birthday, and Kevin was only 2 when his father’s minor-league managerial career started in 1995.
“I’ve always been at the yard with my dad when he’s coaching, out there with my brother shagging fly balls at 8 years old or however old you may be,” Kevin said. “Those are things that were invaluable in our careers. It’s something we don’t even really notice but being around it at such a young age, especially the pro ball side of things and how the game operates, you just learn through osmosis and we didn’t even realize the things we learned that help us from a maturity standpoint and handling failure standpoint and all of those little parts of the game that sometimes go unnoticed that we absorbed.”
Kevin was always better than the other kids his age, his real competition being C.J., his older brother by three years. Unlike C.J., Kevin has not been put in the “top prospect” bin, so his route to the brink of the big leagues has been difficult. But Kevin has a uniform and a chance, which is all he’s asked for. And after his historic start to this season, Cron believes he’s ready to make an impact at the big-league level.
“No,” Cron said when asked if he had any doubts he was ready for the majors. “If you ask any of these guys out here that same question, we’re all really competitive people, really confident. Anybody who says they don’t think they’re ready is either lying to you or they’re not very confident in themselves and might not be ready. I definitely think as long as I stay true to what I do best and stay out of my own way, whenever that time comes I’ll be ready to compete and help the team win any way I can.”
So why hasn’t Cron gotten the call? For starters, he’s a bat-first player limited to first base and the Diamondbacks had perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt at that position until a trade this offseason. Goldschmidt's replacement, ex-Aces star Christian Walker, the 2017 PCL MVP, got off to a blazing start for Arizona this year, although he has cooled off lately, hitting just .180 with three extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts over the last 15 games. Barring an injury or prolonged slump from Walker, Cron’s call to the bigs might take some time.
The PCL, and Reno in particular, also is a hitters’ haven with so-called 4-A players – too good for the minors; not good enough for the majors – putting up big numbers. Arizona must determine if Cron is a big-league keeper like Walker or Mitch Haniger, who became an All-Star in Seattle after Arizona traded him following a strong 2016 season in Reno, or a 26-year-old putting up huge numbers in an advantageous park ala Josh Whitesell or Brandon Allen. But the numbers Cron has posted this year is unprecedented.
“I’m always my biggest critic, but I’m my own biggest fan, too,” he said. “You want to give yourself time to appreciate some of the things you’ve done, mostly because of the way I’ve been able to stay consistent with my plan and reaping those rewards. It’s always fun to take a step back and see it’s the right path I’ve chosen to go about my business the last three years and to see that come to fruition is really cool.”
If he keeps hitting like this, there’s no way Arizona can’t call him up at some point, perhaps when rosters expand in September. If that day comes, it will be a special moment for father and son.
“It’s one of the main reasons why I accepted this job,” Chris Cron said of getting to tell his son he's going to the big leagues. “It’s a once-in-a lifetime deal. He’s a good player and he’s on the right track. It would mean everything, everything to the whole entire family, to him, to me and everybody involved. Looking forward to that day, no doubt.”
But as proud as Cron is of his son for his playing ability, that takes a back seat to the person he’s become.
“I’m more proud of the fact that he’s a super human being,” Chris Cron said. “We'd go to church and you shake the hands at the start of church and people would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I want to congratulate you on such on having such fine kids.’ That means more to me. The baseball is just the icing on the cake because you’re going to be a human being more in your life than a baseball player, but he sure as heck is giving all he’s got in this baseball thing.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.