For all the high grades Utah first baseman C.J. Cron gets for his ability to hit for average and power -- and he should do both at the next level -- the fact that he grew up around professional baseball gets nearly equal billing.
Cron's father, Chris, played 12 seasons in the Minors and got a couple of cups of coffee in the big leagues. He now manages in Erie, Pa., for the SeaWolves, the Double-A club for the Detroit Tigers. Both C.J. and his brother Kevin, himself a prospect coming out of high school this season, got to spend a lot of time around professional players, hanging in the clubhouse, acting as bat boys, taking lots of batting practice and soaking up the game.
"I don't think there's anything higher on the list," Chris Cron said. "It's just what we do. They were fortunate to have a father who was in professional baseball. They hung out with dad while he worked. They fell into a love affair with the game their old man [fell in love with]. It's been a perfect fit.
"It doesn't happen anymore. Players don't sit around and talk about the game the way they used to when I was in the Minor Leagues. We would sit around and learn the game from older guys. Those are the types of things my kids got early. They learned through osmosis."
This isn't just a father waxing nostalgic. C.J. Cron fully understands how he was raised gives him a certain edge, that having that knowledge is a major benefit to his game.
"Being around it every day gave me those baseball instincts not all kids can grow up around," Cron said. "I understood the game from an early age, and that's something you can't replace on the field."
Interestingly enough, it may have taken the younger Cron leaving for the constant lessons to really come through. As a freshman at Utah, Cron had a solid season, using a fairly big leg kick to hit .337 and slug .557. The elder Cron wasn't a fan, thinking his son would be more successful if he minimized it. The son feared change, maybe being a bit more resistant because his father was pushing it.
"When I was younger, he would always pound me with all the hitting knowledge I could ever use," Cron said. "When I got to Utah, I didn't have that anymore. I got here and I really started to understand what he was saying, rather than just listen. I always remembered what he said. I tried to take what he said and execute it."
And the leg kick? Sometimes father does know best. Cron cut it down, lowered his hands and then, in his words, "really took off." As a sophomore, Cron hit .431 with 20 homers, 81 RBIs and an .817 slugging percentage. He's kept right on raking as a junior, while many other college hitters haven't performed with the new bats, to the tune of a .444/.522/.829 line, with 15 homers and 58 RBIs in 46 games. The former catcher-turned-first baseman's plate discipline - there's that knowledge of the game helping again -- is almost uncanny. Cron has the ability to hit for power, but without the tendency to swing and miss that comes with so many who have that kind of pop.
"I'm very happy with his progress," Chris Cron said, without a hint of "I told you so" in his voice. "He was a tough nut to crack. ... What took him getting over the hump was leaving, getting away from his old man. Me being a baseball guy, I was saying, 'You have to do this, you have to do that.'
"When he left, I got that call, after his freshman year. He told me over the phone, 'I'm making this little adjustment in my swing that needs to take place.' Basically, he's saying what I've been trying to get him to do for the past several years. But it wasn't his old man's idea. It was his own thinking. Maybe he finally got it."
It might very well get him drafted in the first round on June 6. Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on that Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
The Tigers, Chris Cron's employer, do not have a pick until the second round, at pick No. 76. There's little doubt C.J. will be long gone by then, but his younger brother Kevin, a Texas Christian recruit, could be a possibility. The father has worked a great deal with his kids over the years, but to get to do it at this level would be something neither side of the generational divide would ever forget.
"I don't know how many people get the opportunity to do that," Chris Cron said. "It would've been a huge, fun time, but it's not nearly the end of the world. It's something you don't have control over anyway. It could work for one and not the other. We'll take what happens and go from there, but I wouldn't turn it down for anything."
"Every kid would love to play for his dad," C.J. Cron said. "He was always around when I was a kid, but nothing at this level. It would be a cool experience. If I play for him, it would be a dream."