Jake Cronenworth Becomes Padres' Man Of Many Talents
SAN DIEGO—Jake Cronenworth is a man of many talents.
He played first base, second base and pitched as both a starter and reliever in college at Michigan. The Rays, after drafting him in the seventh round in 2015, quickly discovered he could play shortstop, too, and made that his primary position as he ascended the minor leagues.
He won the Triple-A International League batting title last year and moonlighted as an opener on the mound. When the Padres acquired him as part of the Hunter Renfroe-Tommy Pham trade last December, they knew they got a player who could help the team in a variety of ways.
Less than two weeks into his MLB career, the Padres No. 15 prospect is already helping the club in even more ways than they expected.
Cronenworth made a series of sharp defensive plays at first base, drove in the go-ahead run and scored the deciding run in the Padres’ 5-4 win over the Dodgers on Monday night. The 26-year-old infielder is batting .357 and has taken over as San Diego’s primary first baseman with Eric Hosmer on the injured list. Among all National League rookies, he is tied for first in runs scored and tied for third in hits, all while re-learning a position he’s barely played in five years.
“You never know when your opportunity is going to come and all you can do is prepare and be ready and he’s done that,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “As far as did we know he was going to play like that? No. We believe in him, but you don’t know until you get out there. It’s still early, but seeing him make plays and have at-bats and not be overwhelmed with anything is really encouraging.”
Cronenworth’s defense stole the show early. He ranged far to his right to start an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the second. He leaped to pull down a high throw from Manny Machado and tagged the runner in one swift motion to turn a likely error into an out in the third. He made a diving stop to his left to rob Max Muncy of a sure double down the line in the sixth. He made four unassisted defensive putouts, using his speed to beat both the runner and pitcher to the bag each time no matter how deep he was playing.
“I don’t know how he made those plays,” Padres starter Chris Paddack said. “I was shocked myself.”
Speed, range and agility are not usually the hallmarks of first baseman. In a span of a few innings, Cronenworth displayed them all.
“I think what helped me a lot was playing shortstop for the last four years,” Cronenworth said, “and kind of taking that over to first base and kind of taking that mentality over there.”
Cronenworth has started four of the Padres’ last six games at first base as the lefthanded-hitting side of a platoon with Ty France. Since college, his prior experience playing first base consisted of one game at Double-A in 2018 and half of a game in spring training this year.
He accelerated his development at the position during summer camp under the tutelage of Padres bench/infield coach Bobby Dickerson, and ultimately won out over France and Josh Naylor in the battle for playing time once Hosmer was sidelined by stomach inflammation.
Still, he’s so new to the position he doesn’t even have his own first baseman’s glove. On Monday, he played with a glove borrowed from Wil Myers that previously belonged to former MLB first baseman Matt Stairs.
“I’ve got to call my dad tomorrow morning (to get my old first baseman’s glove),” Cronenworth said. “But I dunno, this Matt Stairs glove is working pretty well right now.”
All the while, Cronenworth is hitting. He tripled in each of his previous two starts and was elevated to fifth in the batting order Monday. He responded with the hit that put the Padres ahead for good in what had been a seesaw affair.
Joc Pederson led the off the game with home run for the Dodgers, to which Trent Grisham responded with a solo homer in the bottom of the first for the Padres. Myers gave the Padres their first lead with a solo home run in the fourth, which Will Smith summarily erased with a two-run double in the top of the fifth to put the Dodgers up 3-2.
That didn’t last long, either. Fernando Tatis Jr. tied the score back up for the Padres at 3-3 with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth.
That’s when Cronenworth, already having changed the game with his glove, did so with his bat in the sixth. He fell behind 1-2 in the count to Dodgers flame throwing righthander and Top 100 prospect Brusdar Graterol, then shortened up and drove a 99-mph sinker the other way into left field for a line-drive single to score Machado with the tiebreaking run.
“He was super impressive,” Tingler said. “The at-bats from the get-go, I just thought he was really good in the box. Even the at-bats he didn’t get hits in I just thought he was threat up there.”
Cronenworth will likely revert back to his expected role as a utilityman once Hosmer returns. But in the meantime, he’s showing the Padres—and the rest of the National League—that he’s capable of doing even more than what was expected.
“It feels good,” he said. “I think it’s just reassuring that the work we’re putting in is quality work and I’m able to take it to the game.”