The Angels had C.J. Cron penciled in as their power first baseman of the future last summer when they drafted the 6-foot-4 slugger with the 17th overall pick out of Utah. But after a knee injury in August and the arrival of another first baseman named Albert Pujols in December, Cron's role with Anaheim has become cloudy.
Cron, who's father Chris played for the Angels in 1991, enters his first full season in the organization as its No. 3 hitting prospect, behind Mike Trout and Jean Segura, after appearing in just 34 games last season with Rookie-level Orem. Some scouts have already cast Cron as more of a future designated hitter than an infielder, but everyone agrees, the guy can hit. Cron batted .396 at Utah after passing on signing with the White Sox in 2008, putting him in line to be a first-rounder last year.
We caught up with the Arizona native as he began Spring Training this week in Tempe, Ariz.:
MiLB.com: The Angels drafted you as a slugging first baseman, and then they went out and got just about the best slugging first baseman money can buy in Albert Pujols. You're 22 and the Angels now have Pujols signed for 10 years -- what was your reaction when that deal got made?
C.J. Cron: Obviously, I was a little shocked, but I feel like most of the country was shocked, too, so I'm not the only one in that boat. After digesting it for a while, I realized there's nothing I can do, just go out and play hard, continue to hit and see where that takes me.
MiLB.com: Baseball seemed to be your destiny -- your dad Chris played in the Majors and manages in the Tigers system at Double-A Erie (and his cousin is Chad Moeller). He spent a lot of time working for the White Sox as well, and they drafted you in 2008. Did you or your family hope at some level that one of those clubs might draft you last summer?
Cron: Not necessarily, my dad moved to the Tigers just last season, and their first pick was in the second round, so it was one of those things -- we didn't expect it to happen. And it didn't, but it would have been pretty awesome, to play for my dad. It's not going to happen this time.
MiLB.com: What was Draft day like for you? Did you know the Angels were targeting you? What other clubs were interested?
Cron: I think the Angels talked to me the least, although I knew their scouting director, Ric Wilson. His district was from my area, and we'd hit once in a while, but he didn't keep in touch with me too much. But just by knowing Wilson, I knew there was a possibility. I had a lot of talks with the Rays, the Nationals, teams like that, and when I heard my name, it was awesome. I was in a studio, where all the TVs were on, so it was a fun experience.
MiLB.com: What was that first day like, reporting to Orem and suiting up? How weird was it to suddenly have new teammates and be a part of something new in the Minors?
Cron: It was definitely a lot different, and it's funny, I played in that stadium in Orem quite a few times, so I knew my way around. I didn't feel out of place, but wearing the Orem hat and seeing the Angels logo on my sleeve was an awesome feeling.
MiLB.com: Where do you rate yourself defensively at this point?
Cron: I haven't played first base since college. I DH'd the whole time in Orem, so I might be a little rusty, but I'm very capable of playing the position. I'll get the chance to play a full year at first base now and I'm definitely looking forward to it.
MiLB.com: Back in Utah, you were the only player in the 2009 college baseball season to get three hits off Stephen Strasburg in a single game (May 14, 2009, against San Diego State). That makes you somewhat of an expert on how to hit him -- what's the secret?
Cron: I mean, he's obviously the best pitcher I've ever faced -- the stuff he has is really unbelievable. I was fortunate to get the barrel on the ball all three times and found holes. Hitting has a lot to do with luck, and the balls found holes.
MiLB.com: How much did you enjoy going to Utah? I read you were an information systems major -- what did that involve?
Cron: It has to do with computers and writing programs and Internet security, stuff like that. And Utah was was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I went on a recruiting trip and I fell in love with the place. They had a good coaching staff, and it worked out perfectly for me.
MiLB.com: You obviously put up huge numbers last season in 34 games -- 13 home runs and 41 RBIs led the Pioneer League when you were shut down with the knee injury. What expectations did you have for yourself entering the Minors and how satisfying was it to post those power numbers early on?
Cron: I don't know about the expectations. This year, I want to go out and play a full season the best I can and whatever happens, happens. Whatever the Angels want to do and how fast they want to move me, I'm willing to do.
MiLB.com: Was it a difficult transition from the college schedule to playing every night?
Cron: It wasn't too bad. A lot of times you're in college and people think you play four games a week, but you practice everyday, you lift -- it's an all-year thing. It's not tremendously different, but it takes some getting used to, and last season helped.
MiLB.com: Tell me about the injury last summer. You dislocated your knee cap, which sounds incredibly painful, while taking a swing, and then had surgery to repair the ligaments that were damaged. Is that right?
Cron: Basically. I don't know, 3-2 pitch, slider that backed up -- I fouled it off down the line and my first thought was I fouled off my knee. Sometimes you foul off pitches like that. But I'm lying on the ground and I realized it was on my back knee, I thought, that's not possible. The trainer came out and felt around, said my cap was out of place. They put me in an air cast and took me to the hospital, where they popped it back into place. The cast basically keeps the tissue in place. I'm glad it's behind me.
MiLB.com: What has the recovery process been like this offseason? Are you going to be ready for Opening Day?
Cron: Recovery process, it was fine. After the surgery, I didn't start walking for six weeks, I was on crutches. After it got loose, it went pretty quickly. It was a four-month recovery and I'm good to go, I'll be ready for mini-camp on Monday.
MiLB.com: How early did your dad get your started with baseball? What have you learned from him?
Cron: I started as early as I can remember. I grew up, and he was coaching in the Minors, so every summer my mom and brother would head out with him for the summer. The guys would throw us BP, we'd take ground balls. I started at an early age and it helped with my baseball instincts and passion for the game.
MiLB.com: You're from Phoenix but spent the 2010 summer in the Cape Cod League, as many elite prospects do. Was living in New England a huge change from Arizona? What was that experience like?
Cron: It was a little different -- it was much more humid. Playing in Salt Lake City and Phoenix your whole life, you're not used to the humidity, so it was different. But it was still baseball, I enjoyed it, and I liked the area a lot.
MiLB.com: Where do you think you'll start this season? Cedar Rapids? Inland Empire? You could do a lot of damage in the Cal League.
Cron: I don't know, they haven't talked to me yet, but if I had to guess, it'd be one of those teams. I heard the ball flies in the Cal League, so it could be pretty fun.