Reno Aces skipper Chris Cron can’t manage this year, but he’s found another gig in an unprecedented 2020 baseball season.
Cron is working as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Summer Camp Coordinator at their alternate training site at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. Due to the cancellation of Minor League Baseball, each MLB team has an alternate training site, where up to 60 players can play against one another throughout the year.
Whether it’s putting together a lineup for intrasquad scrimmages or configuring weekly training schedules, Cron savors the moment.
“Everyone else is kind of doing all the work. I’m just having fun,” he said. “I’ll put together a schedule and coordinate things, but I’m having the most fun.”
While the Diamondbacks compete through a shortened 60-game season, intrasquad scrimmages are played every day in Scottsdale. During each scrimmage, up to 13 position players and pitchers are split into two teams with safety guidelines put in place.
Scrimmages lack certain aspects of big league contests. Cron may serve as an umpire from the dugout while coaches fill in as defensive substitutions. As long as players stay in shape and improve, that’s the primary goal.
“It’s kind of a makeshift thing going on right now,” Cron said. “We have coaches playing in the field. We don’t have umpires all the time, so we’re our own umps for games. It looks like regular baseball, we’re all wearing the same uniform so getting better is all that matters.”
If and when someone from the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff enters a scrimmage, MLB rules still apply if he is unable to make a play.
“If there’s a flyball hit and a coach is out there we’ll just let it drop,” he said. “A normal big leaguer would make the play, so we’ll call it an out no matter if the coach catches it or not. Things like a routine ground ball, if a coach can’t get it, we’re still calling it an out.”
Despite the unique circumstances in the current Covid-19 climate, each contest is packed with intensity and effort. Prospects are anxious to play and make an impression in hopes of getting called up to Arizona.
“It’s as close to a game as we can make it. We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible,” he said. “It gets real competitive out there and you see the intensity of these guys wanting to perform.”
Cron had the pleasure of calling up a player to the big leagues in his first year managing Triple-A Reno last season. The same situation applies at the alternate training facility. Cron has already informed top catching prospect Daulton Varsho and former Aces infielder Andy Young of their promotion to the Diamondbacks.
Regardless of location, Cron still sees a player’s priceless reaction when he receives the news.
“It’s without a doubt the best thing about being a minor league manager,” he said. “Being able to relay that message to the player and seeing his face light up is a dream come true.”
Several more top prospects in Arizona’s talented farm system are on the 60-player pool in Scottsdale. Outfielders Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo ranked inside MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list. Varsho — MLB Pipeline’s No. 82 overall prospect — recorded his first major league hit Aug. 9 against the San Diego Padres.
In a typical year, the Diamondbacks’ top prospects are scattered across different minor league levels. But most of them are huddled together this season. Cron has the luxury of watching the farm system’s talent unfold right in front of him.
“They’re benefiting from a situation nobody wants to be in,” he said. “But they’re able to be here and perform. Knowing this level of higher play is great for them. It shows them how close they are to making that next level competing against higher-caliber players.”
Arizona’s farm system is filled with young prospects. Thomas just turned 20 and Carroll is 19 after the Diamondbacks selected him No. 16 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. Pitchers Blake Walston, Levi Kelly and Tommy Henry are also competing in Scottsdale, and Cron has been impressed by their strides against tougher competition.
“It’s been a very good collective bunch,” he said. “You have to have the best of the best to fill these roster spots and they’ve shown it. … We have a few prospects down here that haven’t really experienced this level of baseball and they’ve been impressive.”
As players receive the call up to the majors, others must be optioned down to the alternate training site. Slugging first baseman Kevin Cron, the son of Chris Cron, was optioned to Scottsdale to make room for Varsho on the active roster.
Cron, 27, was hitless two strikeouts in five plate appearances with the Dbacks. He led the minor leagues with 39 home runs in Triple-A Reno last season and looked to take advantage of the universal designated hitter addition. Cron made one start at designated hitter, going 0-for-3 with one strikeout.
“Kevin is doing great,” Chris Cron said. “He’s working his tail off like he normally is. He would obviously love to be in the big leagues, but he’s making the most of his time here.”
Chris Cron is making the most of a quirky situation in Scottsdale, but he’s anxious to get back to his regular position in Reno. The Aces endured through a 140-game regular season schedule in 2019 filled with unforgettable memories.
Cron now makes sure to appreciate every moment, big or small.
“I really miss Reno,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you miss from a season. … Every little thing like walking to the river, talking to the guys, traveling to games are things I took for granted. You miss the clubhouse, the front office and everyone involved. Hopefully it will get back to normal someday.”
Arizona’s intrasquad scrimmages will continue in an empty Salt River Fields stadium. As the year progresses, Cron and the rest of the coaching staff will help each player improve during these uncertain times.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We’re all getting ideas out there on ways to improve and make it as ideal as possible with limited resources. It’s been a blast thus far.”