Brawny Cron Brothers Heed Father's Lessons
For years Kevin Cron watched his father Chris try and maximize the wealth of natural talent his older brother C.J. possessed. Largely, it went well. C.J. was a two-time all-state player at Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix with plenty of potential for Chris to mold into a polished baseball player.
It's something Chris has experience doing. He is a baseball lifer who had two cups of coffee in the big leagues before settling into a minor league managing career. He knows how to teach baseball and how the game should be played.
But there were rough spots as well. For all of C.J.'s natural talent, at times he struggled with the mental aspects of the game, which Chris valued. On car rides home from games when C.J. went 2-for-4, their talks would often focus on the two at-bats when he didn't get a hit, trying to help him realize why he failed.
Determined not to fall into the same traps, Kevin took note of what exasperated his father so that when it was his turn, he wouldn't make the same mistakes.
"I saw my dad and said 'He played (professionally) for 15 years, he knows what he's doing,'" Kevin said. "C.J. took a little longer because he had the raw talent. We both bought in and have had a lot of success."
The brothers' success is coming together this spring. C.J., a junior at Utah, was a preseason All-America catcher and is powering the Utes' lineup this season. Kevin is a senior catcher at Mountain Pointe High and was a second-team High School All-American last year after tying Arizona's single-season home run record with 22.
Both C.J. and Kevin are expected to be taken early in June's draft, which could make them the first set of brothers taken in the first 10 rounds since Caleb and Corban Joseph in 2008. No matter how the draft turns out, however, Chris is proud of what his sons have become.
"They've grown up to be pretty damn good baseball players," he said.
Chris Cron played 12 years in the minor leagues, with two short stints in the major leagues along the way. When he retired in 1995 with Triple-A Nashville, he was named manager of the Bristol White Sox of the Appalachian League the same day. C.J. was 5 years old at the time.
As Chris moved up the ranks as a minor league manager, his oldest son was never far behind. Following his father's teams became a normal summer for C.J., who simply enjoyed being around baseball.
"I would always sit in the dugouts during games," C.J. said. "He would lean over to me and tell me what was going on. I was young so I didn't have a clue."
"A lot of the teaching rubs off on to them," Chris said. "They were just around all the time. When you're teaching a pro baseball player and you have an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 15-year-old always around it, they learned through osmosis."
That teaching has paid off for both C.J. and Kevin. Texas Christian coach Jim Schlossnagle has watched C.J. dominate his pitchers the last two years and will coach Kevin next year if he doesn't sign out of the draft. While Schlossnagle hasn't watched Kevin play much yet, he can already tell he has the knowledge of the game typically seen in the children of big leaguers.
"One of the first things I noticed about Kevin just in conversation is he seems to have a good feel for baseball," Schlossnagle said. "Having grown up in a major league clubhouse gives a unique aspect to a player's makeup."
Similarities between C.J. and Kevin are easy to pick out. Both are big. Utah lists C.J. at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, while Kevin checks in at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. Both catch and play first base, though C.J. has yet to catch a game this season.
But what really invites comparisons between C.J. and Kevin and sets them apart from other players is their hitting.
Both have immense power, and they couple it with an ability to hit for average as well. Kevin hit .491/.647/.977 on his way to tying the state home run record last year. C.J. is hitting .388/.436/.690 in his Utes career and hit .431/.487/.817 with 20 home runs last year, a feat that left his little brother in awe.
"He hit over .400 last year in college, which is unbelievable," Kevin said. "How you do that, I don't know."
From the time C.J. took his first round of batting practice as a freshman in the fall of 2008, coach Bill Kinneberg knew he could become a special player. So special, in fact, that Kinneberg quickly made a phone call to have C.J. added to the watch list for Team USA.
"I didn't know if he'd get to that arena," Kinneberg said. "But I felt that strongly."
C.J. would have made the national team last year if a knee injury hadn't cut his summer short. Kinneberg managed the team that reached the gold-medal game of the World University Championship, and said on a team that featured top prospects such as George Springer and Jackie Bradley, C.J. would have hit in the middle of the lineup.
"Not putting down anybody from last year, but he would have fit in real well on that team," Kinneberg said.
Should Kevin reach TCU, expectations are already high for his hitting ability. Schlossnagle said he thinks Kevin can be a comparable hitter to his brother.
"They're both guys that are going to hit and hit with a lot of power," he said.
Kinneberg, still disappointed he wasn't able to lure a second Cron to Salt Lake City, doesn't hold back on his praise of Kevin. "If he makes it to college, he'll be a great hitter," Kinneberg said.
Whether Kevin ever makes it to Fort Worth won't be known until after the draft. After making a difficult college decision, Kevin said he is looking forward to the draft process.
"The draft is the fun side of it," he said. "I have TCU, so it can only go up from there. It's a fun experience to have this happen at an early age.
"I wouldn't say TCU is the backup plan, but it's definitely pretty cool to have people talking like they are, saying I have potential to go in the draft. It's definitely a driving force to keep me working hard."
C.J., on the other hand, said he's trying to avoid thinking about the draft. But it's impossible to get away from. When C.J. led the Utes to a pair of upsets against ranked teams at the Houston College Classic, there were 12 scouting directors in the stands.
As his sons prepare to take the next step in their careers, Chris tries to keep tabs on them from his office in the Tigers' spring training complex in Lakeland, Fla., as he prepares for his first season as the manager at Double-A Erie. He closely follows both their seasons and is excited for what the draft might bring.
"God blessed them with (power). God blessed them with size," Chris said. "It could be a very special June. It could be a very special draft."