SALT LAKE CITY — C.J. Cron became the highest draft pick in University of Utah baseball history Monday. The first baseman, a two-time All-American and back-to-back Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, was taken 17th overall in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Cron watched the draft with family at friends at The BAR Fitness center in his hometown of Ahwatukee, Ariz. The crowd roared as soon as the Angels announced their selection.
"The place went crazy real quick. I can't even explain. I saw my name pop up and then there was about 15 dudes jumping with me," Cron said. "It's an unreal feeling and it's just amazing."
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound slugger surpassed pitcher Stephen Fife, who was a third-round choice of the Boston Red Sox in 2008, as the highest draftee in U. baseball history.
Utah coach Bill Kinneberg noted that Cron was a special player throughout his three seasons with the Utes. He leaves the program with school records in career batting average (.396) and RBI (198).
"We really wanted to go after the best player available," said Ric Wilson, the Angels' director of scouting. "We like his power and hit combination and really see him as a middle of the order type of hitter. I have known and followed C.J. for a long time and this kid is really a hard worker. I have no doubt he will get the most out of his abilities."
Cron led the nation in slugging percentage (.803) this past season and ranked in the top 10 in batting average (.434), doubles (26), on-base percentage (.571) and total bases (159).
"He's the best hitter in the country," Kinneberg said.
The Angels, he noted, are getting a very polished player. Cron's refined his skills in college, raising his draft position from a 44th-round pick (1,320th overall) out of high school to this year's lofty status. He's part of an organization that has two minor league affiliates in Utah, the Pacific Coast League's Salt Lake Bees and the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League. The Bees provide a familiar setting. They share Spring Mobile Ballpark with the Utes.
"I didn't really even notice that until one of my buddies said 'Dude, you're going to be playing in Utah again,' " Cron said. "I'm like that's awesome."
Kinneberg is hopeful local fans we'll get to see him again soon. Cron, though, acknowledged he had other things on his mind immediately after the draft.
"I'm just trying to soak it all in right now and hang out with my buddies and all my family," he said. "I'm not really thinking about that kind of stuff right now."
It was time, after all, to celebrate.
Although Cron didn't have a lot of pre-draft contact with the Angels, he wasn't surprised they took him
"Like I've been saying this whole time, anything can happen in the draft," Cron said. "I'm glad they wanted me and I'm looking forward to being an Angel."
When the draft resumes with rounds 2-30 on Tuesday (MLB Network, 10 a.m.), Utah teammate Rick Anton is projected to go early. The 6-foot, 190-pound, left-handed pitcher earned first-team All-MWC honors are after going 9-1 with a 2.52 ERA and 85 strikeouts as a senior. He was 16-4 with 149 strikeouts in two seasons with the Utes.