Southern notes: D-backs' Cron keeps on slugging

Jackson first baseman on pace for second straight home run crown

Kevin Cron leads the league with 21 homers and 80 RBIs in 113 games for the Generals. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | August 10, 2017 11:00 AM ET

Only one player has ever won back-to-back Southern League home run titles, and that was nearly four decades ago.

Of course, few have had the opportunity. Double-A home run kings don't usually stick around for another year.

Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Kevin Cron, a first baseman stuck behind National League All-Star Paul Goldsmith and Triple-A home run and RBI leader Christian Walker, is an exception.

After smacking 26 homers last year when the D-backs' Double-A affiliate was in Mobile, Cron has 21 in 113 games this season for the Jackson Generals to again lead the league and is also tops in RBIs with 80 after finishing second with 88 a season ago.

Likely more important for his future, the 6-foot-5 right-handed hitter has lifted his batting average from .222 a year ago to .285 and his on-base percentage from .278 to .363.

"Obviously you don't want to repeat a level, but I looked at it as an opportunity to further my development and show what I can really do," Cron said. "My first year didn't quite go the way I wanted it to. It was important to me to prove to myself what I could do in a league that isn't easy to hit in. I think I learned a lot about who I was as a hitter and had a grasp of what I needed to do this year."

In addition to being first in homers and RBIs, the 24-year-old leads the Southern League in slugging (.509) and total bases (216), was tied for first in doubles (32), ranked third in OPS (.873) and was tied for third in runs (65). Cron also ranked nearly as high in the league in walks as strikeouts. He was eighth with 51 walks after drawing only 33 a year ago and sixth with 108 strikeouts after fanning 134 times in 127 games last season.

Video: Jackson's Cron homers to left-center

"He's becoming a better all-around hitter," Jackson manager J.R. House said. "When you have such plus raw power like he has, you can fall in love with the special talent and let it become a weakness.

"He's starting to use the whole field now and getting on base a lot more. He's going the other way with outside pitches and breaking balls. He's not swinging at as many bad pitches, and he's controlling the zone much better."

There's obviously been a learning curve for Cron, who set Arizona high school records for homers with 27 as a senior and 60 for his career, before being taken in the third round of the 2011 Draft by Seattle.

Cron, whose older brother C.J. plays for the Los Angeles Angels, didn't sign and went to Texas Christian University, falling to the 14th round in 2014 despite making the All-Tournament team at the College World Series.

Long-time Minor League manager and hitting instructor Chris Cron also joined the Diamondbacks in 2014, setting up a professional father-son relationship.

"When he comes to town, I'm just like any other player. No special attention," Kevin said. "But it's always cool to have my dad around. He's always done a good job of staying in the background while always being there for me when I need him."

MiLB include

Chris Cron played only briefly in the Majors. The same was the case with Jim Obradovich, who led the Southern League in homers while playing for Orlando in 1975 and 1976.

Kevin Cron hopes that the progress he's made repeating a level will help set him up for more longevity in the Majors.

"It isn't necessarily a step down to be back here," he said. "I think what I've been able to do this year shows as much about who I am as if it was in Triple-A. This isn't a hitter-friendly league.

"I looked at it has an opportunity to showcase that I do have the ability to play here. Then whatever happens, happens. I've tried to treat it as an opportunity, not a downgrade. Double-A is no slouch league. I'm playing ball and having fun."

In brief

Streak broken: Chattanooga right-hander Fernando Romero gave up more than two runs in a game for the first time since mid-May as his four-start winning streak came to an end with a loss to Jackson. The Twins' No. 4 prospect allowed nine hits and six runs over five innings after 13 consecutive nearly flawless outings as he fell to 11-7 and saw his ERA tick up to 2.96. Romero, 22, didn't strike out or walk a batter against the Generals. He had 115 strikeouts and 41 walks in 115 1/3 innings on the season.

Reinforcements: Montgomery, bidding for at least the Wild Card playoff spot behind Chattanooga in the North Division, added two of the top hitters from the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Second baseman Brandon Lowe, the Rays' No. 18 prospect, was leading the FSL in batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.403) and OPS (.927), while catcher Brett Sullivan, also 23 years old, was tops in RBIs with 67 and had a .301 average. Both got off to slow starts with Montgomery, though, with Lowe batting .208 through six games and Sullivan looking for his first RBI.

Subbing right in: Chattanooga outfielder LaMonte Wade landed on the disabled list with a thumb bruise, but the Lookouts got a quick replacement when Edgar Corcino returned from Triple-A Rochester. Corcino, 25, was hitting .299 with a .365 on-base percentage when promoted and had three hits in his second game back to lift his average to .304. He was selected for the Southern League All-Star Game like Wade, the Twins' No. 17 prospect. Wade, 23, was hitting .277 with a .393 on-base percentage and 52 RBIs, and Lookouts manager Jake Mauer said he didn't expect the former University of Maryland standout to sidelined long.

Unexpected call: Mississippi left-hander Max Fried was called up by the Atlanta Braves despite having a 2-11 record and 5.92 ERA in 19 Southern League starts. Atlanta wants to try Fried, the team's No. 10 prospect, in the bullpen, and he made his MLB debut with two scoreless innings against Philadelphia. The 23-year-old dealt with a finger issue part of the season and was sidelined with Mississippi for about three weeks before returning to the mound in late July. Fried pitched three times afterwards, allowing one unearned run over 10 innings.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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