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Zulgad: A proud C.J. Cron has emerged as key part of Twins’ success

MINNEAPOLIS — C.J. Cron could not have been happier, but the problem was he was unable to share the good news. His father, Chris, had called to tell him that his brother, Kevin, was headed to the major leagues for the first time, but it wasn’t a done deal and, thus, C.J. had to keep the news of his brother’s likely callup to the Arizona Diamondbacks off social media.

“It was kind of contingent on a couple of injuries they had, and they didn’t know if they were going to bring up a pitcher, so I couldn’t really do much posting about it,” C.J. said.

C.J., three years older than Kevin, did not have to wait long to play the role of proud older brother. Kevin, a 14th-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2014, was called up by Arizona on Thursday and the best part might have been that Chris, who was his manager at Triple-A Reno, got to tell him. Chris knows exactly how much work it takes to get to the big leagues, having played in 12 games over two seasons with the Angels and White Sox in the early 1990s.

“I’m sure it was awesome for both of them,” C.J. said. “Obviously, it was one of those where his flight left in an hour-and-a-half because they needed the body so I don’t think he told him the way he really wanted to. But I’m sure it was awesome and I’m super happy for both of them.”

Kevin’s call-up continued what has been an exciting 2019 for the Cron family. C.J., claimed off waivers by the Twins from Tampa Bay in November, has played an important role in Minnesota’s ascent to being the best team in baseball.

After going 2-for-3 with four runs batted in in the Twins’ 8-1 victory over the White Sox on Saturday at Target Field, Cron entered Sunday hitting .278/.556/.344 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs. His home run and RBI total are second on the team to Eddie Rosario.

Even after driving in four runs on Saturday, 29-year-old C.J. seemed happier for his brother’s success than his own. “He has been waiting for this moment his whole life, as have I and our whole family, so to see him get the call-up was pretty cool and today he got his … about 30 minutes ago, he just got his first big-league hit, a double down the left-field line,” C.J. said. “So I was able to come into that (news), and that’s almost a better feeling than what we just did out there, to be honest. I’m super happy for him and hopefully he can continue.”

Kevin had gotten into the Diamondbacks’ 18-2 win at San Francisco on Friday — a game that Chris was given the OK to attend — but he struck out in his only at-bat. Kevin started at first base on Saturday and went 1-for-4 with two RBIs and a run in a 10-4 win over the Giants. Kevin could have had at least another double but he was robbed on a great diving catch by San Francisco right fielder Kevin Pillar.

It won’t be surprising if Kevin Cron sticks with the Diamonbacks, if his success at Triple-A is any indication. He was hitting .339/.437/.800 and led all of professional baseball with 21 home runs in 44 games before being promoted.

So which Cron brother has more power? Six-foot-four, 235-pound C.J. or 6-foot-5, 250-pound Kevin? “Hopefully him,” C.J. said. “I hope he does better than I’ve ever done. Nothing but rooting for him.”

Kevin has to be equally as happy for C.J., who has found a home at first base with the Twins. C.J served as the Rays’ designated hitter in 70 games last season and played 61 games at first base. He hit .253/.323/.493 with 30 home runs and 74 RBIs in 140 games in his first and only season in Tampa Bay — he had been acquired in a February 2018 with the Angels — but the low-budget Rays decided to move on from him.

The Twins quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.8 million deal with Cron after claiming him off waivers and have used him as Joe Mauer’s replacement at first base. Cron has started at DH only twice this season and was at first base for the 44th time on Sunday.

“I kind of just took it in stride,” Cron said of the Twins claiming him off waivers. “I was obviously super excited to be able to play for Rocco (Baldelli) just being with him last year also. I knew the connection was there, it made sense, they needed a first baseman at the time. I was super excited to be here, I always enjoyed coming here as a visiting player. So to be able to play here every day has been cool.”

Baldelli was the Rays’ major league field coordinator last season before being hired as the Twins manager last October. He knew what Cron could do and so far the veteran hasn’t disappointed.

“He’s been a good stabilizing bat offensively for us in the middle of our order,” Baldelli said. “We’ve hit him around the lineup but usually in the middle. He’s produced well. As a defensive player, he’s a good defender. You can break him down very quickly. You have a big target over there with good hands and good feet and a good accurate arm that can turn a double play and pick balls out of the dirt and things like. He does all those things. He does them well. He takes pride in what he does too. I think our infielders feel good when they know he’s over there.”

Cron made a key play on Friday starting a not-so-easy-to-turn first-to-second-to-first double play with the Twins only up by one in the fourth inning and runners at first and third. The Twins then scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth, but it was Cron’s defensive that put them in a position to keep the lead. Cron made another gem in the second inning on Sunday, diving to his left to glove a grounder by Chicago’s Jose Rondon and flipping to pitcher Jake Odorizzi for the out.

“I want to be as complete of a player as possible,” Cron said of his defense. “I guess I’m kind of known for my bat, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play defense. I think this is the first year in my career that I’m able to actually get out there on a consistent basis and kind of just show what I can do. I’ve been a DH slash first baseman for a lot of my career, so it’s really nice to get out there and play every day. Defense is kind of the same as offense in terms of getting that confidence up, having that rapport with your infield, especially (Jonathan Schoop) at second. It’s been good.”


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