Rake Cronenworth’s Star Turn

When you hear – or in this case read – the word “slapdick”, you likely put the word “prospect” on the end of it and think about Blake Snell’s raw and real reaction to the Tommy Pham trade to San Diego. From there, you likely think about the prospect in question, Xavier Edwards, and then the main return for the Rays, Hunter Renfroe. It takes a while for you to consider Jake Cronenworth, if you even associate him with that deal at all.

The 26-year old super-duper (you get the “duper” added when pitching is part of your skillset) utilityman got some run in the analysis of the trade, but more because he hit and pitched for the Rays Triple-A squad last year than anything else. He had his believers to be sure with our own Alex Chamberlain and Brad Johnson being among them in their Peripheral Prospects series, though he was unquestionably under the radar in this deal. He enjoyed the rabbit ball in the minors last year as it aided him to a 147 wRC+ with 10 HR and 12 SB in 406 PA. He struck out just 15% of the time and walked at a 12% clip.

A utility role was all he could really hope for coming into the season with his primary positions of SS, 3B, and 2B all firmly blocked off by Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Jurickson Profar. One of those is not like the others, but we’ll get to that in a moment. He played just two of the team’s first six games before an Eric Hosmer stomach issue opened up some time for him at 1B. He made seven starts there from July 29th to August 7th and went off with a .333/.360/.792 line that included five extra-base hits among his eight total (a 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR) plus 3 RBI and 5 R in 25 PA.

Hosmer returned but Cronenworth remained in the lineup, now at 2B with Profar finding time in LF and Pham shifting to DH. Cronenworth cooled off over his next seven games with a .705 OPS, though I still saw him as a good fit for my third edition of under 40%/over 60%, highlighting players to pick up while also recommending someone who could be cut at each position. A few days after that, Pham would hit the IL and essentially secure Cronenworth’s playing time for the foreseeable future, though Profar’s awful line (.193/.308/.341) makes me believe that it was never in doubt even if Pham had stayed healthy.

Since I included him as a pickup in under 40%/over 60%, he has hit .375/.474/.594 in 38 PA and even joined the Slam Diego party as one of the five grand slam hitters last week. That’s his lone homer over that time but four doubles along with it gives him a healthy .219 ISO in that time (and a .280 for the year). Cronenworth is now widely rostered, jumping to 63% in ESPN leagues and sits at 100% in the two NFBC primary contests – 12-team Rotowire Online Championships and 15-team Main Events.

The skills profile supporting Cronenworth’s breakout is strong. I mentioned his plate approach from Triple-A last year and it’s been just as good in the bigs. Both rates are a bit lower, but the BB/K ratio is near-equal going from 0.80 last year to 0.77 this year (13% K, 10% BB). His StatCast page is blood red with each measured metric ranging from 78th percentile (Hard-Hit rate) to 100th (xBA). He’s barreling the ball at a 16% clip and his 28.5 ft/sec sprint speed puts him in the 91st percentile.

Of course a guy who can play everywhere, mash the ball, run like the wind, and pitch is from the Rays organization. The only surprise is that they didn’t keep him for themselves! There are Ben Zobrist vibes all over the place here, trading Zobrist’s switch-hitting for Cronenworth’s ability to pitch in a pinch. Cronenworth is 26 years old, but that’s a year earlier than Zobrist first broke onto the scene as a notable player. He had 303 uninspired PA (27 wRC+) at ages 25-26 before a 62-game sample in 2008 saw him post a 123 wRC+ in 227 PA.

I doubt Cronenworth will continue to hit at a 178 wRC+ clip, but there’s a lot to believe in here and I do expect him to remain all-formats viable as a multi-positional stud with power and speed contributions the rest of the way and in the coming seasons. Given his age, he can likely be acquired at a discounted rate relative to his production for dynasty leagues as prices start to tank once a player gets past age-25 save the truly elite hitters.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and Content Director for OOTP Perfect Team. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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3 years ago

I was just about to comment about Cronenworth’s parallels to Zobrist in Eric’s update to the prospect board, then I saw your post and had to read about “Rake” lol.

Somebody needs to come up with a catchy term for guys who make their “age-26” offensive leap forward concurrently with their move from AAA to the majors (Mike Tauchmann comes to mind as well)…..

3 years ago
Reply to  tz

To be fair, that was the de facto development path for most hitters before the wunderkind movement which has exploded over the last 5-10 years.

3 years ago
Reply to  SucramRenrut

There have been plenty of young guys who were good throughout history and I was curious how true your statement was – I suspected it was, just curious “how” true it is. So I pulled all seasons since 1969 (division era – didn’t want to go too far back) for guys age 21 and younger. There are plenty of guys in the 70’s that had great age 21 seasons. What ‘s changed is HOW good young guys are these last 10 years or so.

There are 24 seasons since 1969 where a guy put up 4 WAR at age 21 or younger. A full half of them have come since 2009 (listed by WAR) – Trout (x2), Acuna, Correa, Machado, Upton, Soto, Heyward, Harper, Stanton and Bellinger.

By decade:
– 1969 – 1979: 4 – Cedeno, Bench, Willie Randolph, Greg Gross (yes, Greg Gross)
– 1980 – 1989: 2 – Rickey and Ripken
– 1990 – 1999: 4 – Junior (X2), A-Rod, ANdruw Jones
– 2000-2009: 2 – Pujols, Upton
– 2010-2019: 11 – listed above (I also lumped in Upton in the list since his was in 2009)

IF you go a little further down the list you hit a LOT of guys from the 70’s in the 3.0-3.9 range – I count 9 guys. But the 80’s is not represented very well. The only other 80’s guys if you go down to 3.0 WAR are 2 Robbie Alomar seasons and Raines.