SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- C.J. Cron is the guy everyone keeps looking at, for obvious reasons. He projects to play a lot of first base for the Angels, with Albert Pujols still early enough in his recovery from foot surgery. He will be counted on to drive in a lot of runs, because the offense is generally lacking in thump. And he's the man many will point to -- from the bleachers, the clubhouse and even the executive offices -- as the X-factor for this Angels team.
"I'm ready for it," Cron said. "I'm excited. I'm sure everyone says it, but nobody puts more pressure than you put on yourself. It'll be fun."
Cron's first two at-bats of the spring produced two sharp line drives to the opposite field, into the glove of Giants second baseman Joe Panik and down the right-field line for a double at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday. They were easy reminders of Cron's last spring, when he batted .413/.432/.733 over a 26-game stretch and seemed poised for a breakout 2015 season.
Then the lights came on, and the numbers plummeted.
As of May 24, Cron's regular-season slash line sat at .204/.225/.276. He was sent to the Minor Leagues, and called back up, and sent back down, and called back up again, all in a matter of 34 days.
"It was a little bit of everything," Cron said of his early season struggles. "I didn't get consistent at-bats, and then when I got in there I just tried to do too much. I tried to prove myself throughout one game instead of trying to put together good at-bats. I think that kind of caught up to me."
Most young players take getting sent down as something of a wakeup call, a sign that they need to either make a key adjustment or simply get better.
Cron was bullish.
"I knew I could hit," he said. "When I got sent down, I didn't think I needed to retool anything. I knew my swing was fine. For me, it was just getting the consistent at-bats and just seeing the pitches."
Cron came back up one last time June 29 and suddenly morphed into the Angels' second-most consistent producer for more than three months, prompting Angels manager Mike Scioscia to stop sitting him against righties.
From July 1 to Oct. 4, Cron batted .289/.330/.506, with 14 homers and 44 RBIs over a 76-game stretch. The 26-year-old right-handed power hitter posted an .835 OPS in that stretch, trailing only Mike Trout for the team lead.
His season ended at .262/.300/.439, with 16 homers, 51 RBIs and two completely different halves.
"I got to play every day, so I felt more comfortable in the box," Cron said. "And then everything seemed to click for me."
Cron called the offseason that followed his first normal one as a professional. He required shoulder surgery after 2012, played in the Arizona Fall League and the Dominican Republic following the 2013 season and had a cyst removed from his wrist in 2014. This winter, he got to the gym early and focused solely on the upcoming year.
"I feel good, I feel comfortable, I feel quicker, I feel stronger," Cron said. "I think it benefitted me."
The Angels can only hope.
"We need his offense," Scioscia said, "and I think he's comfortable with that. He's very, very confident in what he can do."