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Tampa Bay Rays Let 7th Rounder Jacob Cronenworth Begin at 2B

By Robbie Knopf

Players slip in the draft for all sorts of reasons. Some of them are too committed to college, some have injury problems, and others see their performance drop off dramatically the last few times that evaluators see them. There is a possibility, however, that Jacob Cronenworth slipped for an entirely different reason. Cronenworth was best known as a pitching prospect, but the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him as a second baseman. Any chance Cronenworth fell down draft boards because he had his heart set on being a position player?

Admittedly, the answer to that question is probably “no.” Cronenworth with the No. 194 prospect in the draft according to Baseball America, and it makes sense that he was selected at 208th overall. That being said, it was fascinating that Cronenworth is being labeled a position player after MLB.com described his splitter as the best in the draft.

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Cronenworth excelled on both sides of the ball during his junior season at the University of Michigan. He hit to a .338/.419/.494 line with 18 doubles, 6 homers, and 48 RBI at the plate along with a 3.67 ERA and a 53-19 strikeout to walk ratio in 49 innings on the mound, primarily in relief. As a second baseman, Cronenworth stands out for solid bat speed, great plate discipline, and good gap power. It would be interesting if pitching helped him with pitch recognition. Unsurprisingly, he has excellent arm strength, although he lacks the hands and range necessary to play shortstop. He could profile well at second or third base as well as the corner outfield spots, and his upside is likely a utility player that does a nice job getting on base.

Cronenworth could potentially be a useful position player, but scouts are more fascinated by what he can do on the mound. His stuff held up even as he started games for the first time this season, and he was impressive enough that he went from a surefire reliever to a guy who will likely get a chance to start in pro ball. Cronenworth has hit as high as 94 MPH in relief, although he sits more in the 88-91 MPH range as a starter, and he does a great job putting hitters away with a mid-80’s splitter that seemingly disappears as it gets to the plate.

Cronenworth’s third pitch, a slider, hasn’t shown much promise, and he also has issues commanding his fastball. However, when we consider how good he has looked on the mound while still playing most of Michigan’s games as a position player, there is reason to believe that he has another gear left in him. The Rays could try to teach him a curveball to replace his slider, and maybe all he needs for a more repeatable delivery is more reps as a pitcher. Even if Cronenworth’s final home is the bullpen, he certainly deserves a chance to prove himself further as a starter.

Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays particularly liked Jacob Cronenworth as a second baseman, or maybe he will be at the position only briefly before moving to the mound. Either way, the Rays have themselves a high-upside pitching prospect, and we have to wonder how long they will let him be a position player.

Click this link to read our other 2015 Tampa Bay Rays MLB Draft profiles.

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