In spring training the 26-year-old Cronenworth was on the roster bubble as an interesting two-way player with a mid-90s fastball and a lefthanded bat. When the Padres convened for summer camp in July he had worked his way up to bench player.
Then a mysterious stomach bug sidelined Eric Hosmer for more than a week. Cronenworth not only seized an everyday role at first base, a position he played in college at Michigan, but he became a contender National League Rookie of the Year.
“We knew Jake was a good ballplayer,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “. . . I trust him in the box. I trust him with his decision-making. I trust him on the bases. And I certainly trust him with the ball hitting his glove and him delivering the ball to the right base with a good throw.”
Cronenworth cracked the Opening Day roster as an extra middle infielder. His pitching shelved because of the pandemic, he debuted as a pinch-runner, doubled in his first at-bat and didn’t receive his first start until the sixth game of the season.
Initially viewed as a short-term answer at first base against righthanders, Cronenworth hit so much that he displaced second baseman Jurickson Profar upon Hosmer’s return.
By the end of August, Cronenworth—the Rays’ 2015 seventh-rounder who never cracked the top half of their system—was not only asked about often at the trade deadline, he was named the NL’s rookie of the month after hitting .356, slugging .624 and swatting four home runs.
Cronenworth cooled in September, hitting .183 and slugging .263, but his overall .831 OPS still ranked fourth best among rookies with at least 100 plate appearances. He hit .285/.354/.477 with four home runs in 54 games.
“Whether I’m coming off the bench that day or in the starting lineup,” Cronenworth said, “my goal is to do one thing that’s going to help this team win.”
— Cuban outfielder Jorge Oña, who signed for $7 million in July 2016, was the sixth player to make his big league debut this year with the Padres and he hit his first home run before he was optioned back to the alternate site. Catcher Luis Campusano also debuted in 2020 and homered in his first game before landing on the injured list with a left wrist sprain. The others to debut this year were Cronenworth, outfielder Edward Olivares (who was traded to the Royals), shorstop Jorge Mateo and righthander Luis Patiño.
— Righthander Matt Brash was the player to be named sent to the Mariners to complete the trade for reliever Taylor Williams. Brash was the Padres’ fourth-round pick in 2019 out of Niagara. He struck out eight batters over 5.1 inings (1.69 ERA) last year between Rookie ball and low Class A Fort Wayne.