Such is the depth of the Padres minor league farm system that Jake Cronenworth only appeared 17th on their prospect list before the 2020 season.
He slashed .285/.354/.477 last year on his way to tying for the Rookie of the Year runners-up spot with Alec Bohm, behind clear winner Devin Williams.
Cronenworth played mainly at second base but also featured at first base (10 games), shortstop (11 games) and third base (one game). Shortstop was his primary position in Triple-A in 2019.
If xwOBA is your thing, then you will not be surprised that Cronenworth’s teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. featured in the top-10 last season. He is, after all, a superstar. The stat xwOBA is a more reliable indicator of a player’s skill than regular wOBA, as it uses quality and amount of contact, rather than the outcome.
You know the xwOBA list is legit as it has Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper in the top-3, so you have to be impressed to see Cronenworth at 16th.
Cronenworth was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2020. Originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015, he was traded with Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards after just having hit .329 in Triple-A with .931 OPS.
With Manny Machado at third base, Tatis Jr. at shortstop and Eric Hosmer at first base, the only infield vacancy is second base.
However, rather than his MLB debut season securing Cronenworth an everyday job for 2021, he is likely to face an intense battle for at-bats as the Padres have an apparent desire to acquire all of the available infielders.
Vying with Cronenworth for playing time at second are …
Jorge Mateo: Personal favourite of mine. The former top prospect tested positive for COVID-19 almost immediately after his move from Oakland to San Diego. When he finally made his MLB debut stint of 28 plate appearances, Mateo disappointingly slashed .154/.185/.269 without a home run.
He is still incredibly fast and hits the ball really hard – he slugged .504 in Triple-A in 2019.
Ha-Seong Kim: This could be a fantastic signing by the Padres. The 25-year-old hit .306 with 30 home runs and 23 stolen bases with the Kiwoom Heroes in Korea last season.
It is difficult to know how superstar production in Korea translates to MLB, but I can only imagine if the Yankees or Mets had signed Kim, then he would be overhyped. As it was the Padres, he could be an under-the-radar stud.
Jurickson Profar: Another offseason signing by the Padres saw them bring back the former top prospect. He slashed .278/.343/.428 in 2020 while splitting time between second base and left field.
Amazingly, still only 27 years old, Profar flashes streaks of brilliance, but evens it up with slumps bringing him back down to slightly above-average hitter.
Mateo, Profar and Cronenworth can play left field, and Kim is taking reps out there, but according to Jeff Sanders of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Tommy Pham will be the unquestioned starter in left field. Last season was a bit of a disaster for Pham with a positive COVID-19 test, broken hamate bone and only 109 at-bats. But he is only one year removed from a 20-20 season with .818 OPS in 2019.
The structure of the roster will certainly help enable the Padres to field a stellar lineup regardless of what injuries or illnesses hit the team, but it doesn’t guarantee us seeing Cronenworth on a daily basis.
Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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