Jake Cronenworth faded down the stretch of the regular season, and the Padres utility man knows he needs to continue making adjustments as competition for playing time increases.
Eric Hosmer‘s gastrointestinal issues in the first couple of weeks during the shortened 2020 campaign were a blessing in disguise for Padres’ utility man Jake Cronenworth. Acquired as part of the Tommy Pham trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in December 2019, a 26-year-old Cronenworth was still looking for his first major league at-bat.
With Hosmer in and out of the lineup, manager Jayce Tingler plugged Cronenworth in at first base, a run that saw the former Michigan Wolverine finish second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
“The first month, I made the team out of camp,” Cronenworth explained. “As my role was then, I was just trying to get on the field any way possible. I think it was good. My first at-bat was a pinch-hit. I kind of got thrown into the mix right away, playing a position I hadn’t played in a while at first.
“[I was] Kind of playing there for a couple of weeks while Hos was sick. I think it was great. I didn’t really have time to think about anything and think about what I was doing at the plate. I was just kind of thrown in there, which I think helped a lot. [It] Took my mind off it, and obviously, the guys in the clubhouse made me as comfortable while I was over there.”
Once Hosmer returned to the lineup, Cronenworth settled into a somewhat permanent role at second base, posting a .285/.354/.477 slash line with four home runs and 20 RBI’s in 54 games. As noted, he finished second to Brewers’ reliever Devin Williams for NL Rookie of the Years honors, but offensively, Cronenworth led all NL rookies with 15 doubles.
With the designated hitter role not on option for the National League in 2021, the Padres have a crowded infield with Jurickson Profar returning on a three-year deal and Ha-Seong Kim coming over from Korea on a four-year contract.
Despite the competition for one spot, Cronenworth has been more than willing to help Kim become acclimated to his new team while also learning a new language.
“He’s a good player,” Cronenworth said of Kim. “He’s versatile, moves around. I actually played against him in 2019 in Tokyo. It’s always exciting to add depth in guys that are good players. And just like anything, like coming up from Triple-A to the big leagues, there’s an adjustment period, and anyway we can help him, that’s what we’re here to do.”
With a .316 average against right-handers in 2020, Cronenworth could be an attractive platoon-player for the Padres in the upcoming season, with either Profar or Kim slotting into the lineup against lefties. Regardless, pitchers began to figure out Cronenworth as the regular season unfolded, with the Padres’ utility man posting a .183 average in September.
That said, Cronenworth bounced back in the postseason, hitting a combined .389 average with one home run and three RBI’s in six games split between the Cardinals and Dodgers series. He’ll need to continue tweaking his approach entering his sophomore year.
“The biggest challenge will be making adjustments. Everybody now having 60 games in the league is making adjustments. I think I need to start making them back. [I] Made some good adjustments going into the playoffs last year. I thought I had some really good at-bats, and I think those are some little things that I can build off of on and bring into this season,” Cronenworth said.