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2016 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Candidates — C.J. Cron

C.J. Cron has been a player that has peaked my interest since I first drafted him to one of my dynasty teams back in 2012. While he’s never done much at the major league level for him to really catch anyone’s eye, 2016 might be the first year he actually gets consistent at-bats. I told myself that very same thing last year, too, as he was primed to be the designated hitter and part-time first baseman for the Halos. That didn’t last long, as Cron struggled and was sent down to Triple-A in May.

Cron got called back up to the big leagues in July, immediately excelling and earning himself a the first baseman job for the start of the 2016 season, and he will presumably move to DH whenever Albert Pujols returns from his offseason surgery. Nonetheless, it seems that Cron might finally have a chance of reaching 600 at-bats in a season.

I’ve had the enjoyment of calling him “Crusher Cron” to my fantasy buddies for the past few years, though it’s never meant much since he’s spent most of the time in one of my minor league slots or on my bench. Cron just turned 26, and the starting job is his to lose. Cron was a first round pick by the Halos back in 2011, and all he did in the minor leagues was hit home runs, better known as “Cron bombs”. In 2012, he hit 27 home runs across 535 at-bats, while driving in 123 runs. While it was High A ball, those numbers still catch your eye. Unfortunately, that was in 2012, and it is now 2016. C.J. Cron has not developed into the powerhouse that some of us thought he was going to be, but there is still time!

When Crusher got called back up last season, he absolutely raked, smacking 11 home runs from July until the end of the season. On top of that, Cron also had a weeklong stretch in July in which his exit velocity on the balls he hit was just about 10 MPH higher than league average. Cron had a .332 batting average between July and August, with eight home runs and 22 runs batted in. He flamed out a bit in September, hitting just .232, though the power was still there as he hit six home runs in the month. Cron reminds me of Mark Trumbo a bit, though he doesn’t strike out nearly as much, and I’m not sure if he’d be as funny to watch in the outfield.

This is what makes me most excited about Cron. During his time in the majors last year, he hit the 34th fastest exit velocity (114 MPH) in the big leagues (via BaseballSavant.com). This stat doesn’t mean he’s going to be a stud, obviously, as there are names like Mark Reynolds and Logan Morrison in the same area, but it can at the very least make you a little optimistic about Cron if he sees a full season worth of at-bats. He hits the ball, and he hits the ball hard. A few notable names that he was in front of on that list: David Ortiz, George Springer, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion.

Each projection system I check has Cron around the same area: 20 home runs, 60 runs batted in, and a .265/.300/.440 slash line. These projections, however, have Cron tapping out at around 400 at-bats, which I find to be a bit low, given the way the Angels roster looks right now. If he can sniff 600 at-bats, I don’t see why Cron can’t hit over 30 home runs and drive in close to 100 runs. The batting average is right around where I would expect it to be, though I see his slugging percentage being a bit higher than .440. Maybe I’m just a bit crazy, and maybe I’m asking way too much of the 26-year-old that could end up getting benched by mid-June.

The best part about Cron is that he might not even get drafted in a redraft league, depending on how deep your league is. That makes the investment that much more intriguing, considering you’re basically just taking a flyer on the guy. If Cron busts out and has a big 2016, you drafting him in the last round could be the difference between you and a championship. Classic low-risk, high reward play… just don’t kill me if I’m wrong about this.

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