Former University of Utah baseball player C.J. Cron is looking forward to a bright professional baseball career — and improvement in the Utes' football fortunes.
Cron, who had 122 RBIs entering Sunday night's game, is close to setting one-season records for a minor-league player in the Angels' organization (Todd Greene had 124 in 1994 with Lake Elsinore). He is also only one away from the career mark for the Inland Empire/San Bernardino franchise (Chin Feng Chen drove in 123 in 1999).
"I've been working with [hitting coach] Paul Sorrento to iron out some kinks in my swing," said Cron, who is playing his first full professional season with the Inland Empire 66ers, the Los Angeles Angels' farm team in the Advanced Class A California League. "Earlier in the year, I was missing my pitches and hitting the pitcher's pitches. Now I am hitting my pitches and not missing them."
In addition to his 122 RBIs, Cron has 26 home runs and a .295 batting average. The statistics are even more impressive when broken down into categories.
His average with runners on base is .362 and he is batting .365 with runners in scoring position. He drove in 32 runs in July and has a .341 batting average with 21 RBIs so far in August.
"With C.J., we just tried to have him take more efficient batting practice," said Sorrento. "We wanted to see him hit more line drives and hit the ball to all fields rather than just trying to see how far he could hit it. He stays on an even keel and doesn't get down when he's not hitting."
The Angels drafted Cron in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft.
Mlb.com rates Cron as the second-best prospect in the Angels' organization. Sorrento said the Angels main hope was that Cron would be healthy enough to play a full season. The 6-foot-4 right-handed hitter missed only one game in the first half of the season and has missed only three games since the All-Star break.
"He is a great young man to manage," said Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman. "He is showing patience and discipline at the plate, and he has improved a ton defensively."
Cron started at Utah as a catcher but became a first baseman when he suffered an injury. He said he is figuring stuff out in the field and knows where to play batters depending on where they hit the ball.
The Angels have not made a decision on whether they will have Cron play in the Arizona Fall League or another winter league. An invitation of that sort is often considered a sign that a minor-leaguer is a highly regarded prospect. Sometimes it is a chance for a player to learn a new defensive position, a new technique such as switch-hitting, or to get at-bats for a player who may have had injuries or signed late.
"Sometimes it's a good thing to go to play in the fall or the winter, but sometimes it's not," said Haselman. "If you have enough at-bats during the season, it might be better for a player to shut down for a while."
Regardless of where he is after the season ends, Cron is looking forward to seeing an improved season from Utah's football team, ranked by Cron and many college football followers as second in the Pac-12 South behind national power USC.
"With Jordan Wynn coming back from injury and [defensive tackle Star] Lotulelei, we should be excellent," Cron said.