Padres News: Jake Cronenworth could quietly be the difference-maker

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

We’ve spent most of the offseason talking about blockbuster trades and watching the Dodgers’ dominance of the National League West look far less guaranteed at long last.

It’s been the winter of the San Diego Padres, who added Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Ha-Seong Kim in trades and free agency, while also bringing back Jurickson Profar on a three-year deal late last week. The guy he’ll share reps with, Jake Cronenworth, though – could end up being a huge factor in whether or not the Friars return to the postseason in 2021.

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Coming off a runner-up finish in National League Rookie of the Year voting, the former seventh-round pick is ready for his first 162-game campaign. With the addition of Kim, we’ll see Cronenworth all over the diamond – likely at second, short and in the outfield. With the designated hitter still up in their air for the Senior Circuit, we’re not 100 percent sure what the lineup will look like just yet.

But one thing is for sure. With a lineup loaded with right-handed pop (Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Tommy Pham and Kim), Cronenworth – along with first baseman Eric Hosmer, will help balance things out for manager Jayce Tingler.

His tremendous bat-to-ball abilities are invaluable to this team. The 27-year-old ranked in the 91st percentile in whiff rate, 84th in strikeout percentage and 98th in regards to xBA. He runs well, plays all over the diamond and puts the ball in play.

Padres need consistency from Jake Cronenworth

Last year was a tale of two halves. That’s the best way to sum up Cronenworth’s 2020 performance. In August, he did it all, tossing up a 1.194 OPS while getting on base 44 percent of the time. But over the season’s final month, he bottomed out, posting a .543 OPS and watching his on-base percentage plummeting close to 200 points.

Hence the move to add Kim this offseason. Cronenworth seems like the perfect ‘first man off the bench’ guy for this Padres team (of course, assuming Kim doesn’t stumble over a learning curve in his first big league season).

Defensively, we saw him at second, short and first last year. This time around, with Victor Caratini able to spell Hosmer at first, I suspect it’ll be more middle infield and outfield for the Michigan alum. Adding him to the mix in the outfield along with Profar, again, drives home just how deep this Padres roster is.

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We don’t yet know what role Jake Cronenworth will play in 2021. But it’ll be important, no matter where he’s playing defensively or what his role is on a day-to-day basis. That much is already clear.