FORT MYERS, FLA. — CJ Cron had a massive offensive season for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. Not only did he hit nearly as many homers (30) as the two previous years combined (32), but he set career-highs across the board in games played, plate appearances, doubles, RBIs, walks and OPS+.
It’s not often that a 30-homer season results in a player switching teams. It’s even less often that it’s via a non-tender.
And despite all that, Cron may be on the verge of facing the biggest expectations he’s ever had to face as a professional.
He’s the unfortunate soul who’ll be tasked with being the first to replace Joe Mauer at first base.
To be fair, most of that pressure will be external, and perhaps even unintentional. It’s going to be hard for Twins fans to help themselves when it comes to assessing the new first baseman in the same light as the previous one.
Cron thinks the distinction is cool, but he’s not too worried about replacing Mauer. In fact, the common refrain — and one echoed by Cron — is that no one can, and it’s not really worth trying.
“I mean obviously it’s cool,” Cron said of being the heir apparent at first base. “He’s pretty much a Twins legend. It’s going to be someone tough to replace; I don’t know he is replaceable.
“I think it’d be a little different if I played with him before and knew the guy he was. I never met him really except playing against him. I just kind of have to play my own game and try not let it affect me.”
Even though Mauer isn’t in camp with the Twins, there’s still plenty of chatter about him — and he’ll be coming down for a visit later this month with his family.
“I hear he was a great guy,” Cron said about the Mauer tales he’s heard secondhand. “That’s pretty much the first thing. The numbers speak for themselves, and how long he played for one team is pretty crazy. So yeah, I’ve heard nothing but good things.”
But again, Cron reaffirmed that he can’t get caught up in trying to replace Mauer — on the field, or off it.
Honestly, he has plenty on his plate when it comes to repeating his strong 2018, and that’s in addition to learning his third coaching staff in the last three seasons after going from the Angels, to the Rays and now to the Twins.
Playing under a coaching staff that included Rocco Baldelli in Tampa Bay last year has eased that transition, however.
“It’s good. I think being with Rocco in Tampa last year helped a lot, so it’s a lot of the same stuff, honestly. He brought a lot of that stuff over. On that aspect, it’s a very similar spring to last year with Tampa. It’s been good for sure.”