Paul Goldschmidt’s exit Wednesday from the Arizona Diamondbacks may open the door for two hot-hitting infielders who held down the corners most of 2018 for the Reno Aces, Christian Walker and Kevin Cron.
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired six-time All-star first baseman Goldschmidt from Arizona in exchange for starting right-hand pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a 2019 draft pick.
If he doesn’t reach a deal with the Cards, Goldschmidt, 31, will be a free agent at the end of the 2019 season. He has been one of the top players in baseball since the Dbacks selected him in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft. Goldschmidt is a three-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger during his eight-year MLB career.
Goldschmidt’s departure potentially clears the way for former Reno Aces’ first baseman Walker and third/first baseman Kevin Cron. Both players have the tools and power at the plate to earn a starting spot in the Arizona desert for the Aces’ parent club.
Walker, 27, was stuck behind Goldschmidt at first base for two years. Last season in Reno, Walker appeared in 18 games in left field to showcase his versatility in the field. The 2017 Pacific Coast League MVP appeared in 48 games with Arizona last season. He hit .299 with 18 homers in 84 games with the Aces. Walker’s 50 career home runs tied him for third place with Peter O’Brien in franchise history.
Cron, 25, led Reno with 22 homers and 97 RBIs in 104. He and shortstop teammate Ildemaro Vargas were named to the All-PCL team in August. Defensively, Cron’s strong arm makes up for his speed at the hot corner, but his hulking 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame may be more suited for first base.
Since 2017, Cron and Walker have combined for 72 home runs and 282 RBIs for the Aces.
Although both Walker and Cron have elite pop at the plate, strikeouts have been their Achilles heel. Walker totaled 22 strikeouts in just 49 at-bats with the Dbacks and 86 with the Aces. Cron had 100 strikeouts in Reno.
Both players are on Arizona’s 40-man roster and will compete for a spot on Arizona’s 25-man roster in spring training.
The newly acquired Weaver and Kelly both have five years plus of team control, giving Arizona a young nucleus to build around for the future. Kelly has six years before being eligible for arbitration and Weaver has five.
In the MLB, a player has reached one year of big-league service time when 172 days has passed and that player remained on the 25-man roster. Upon reaching six years of service time, a player becomes eligible for free agency at the end of that season.
Four players added to Aces for 2019 season
In other news, Arizona signed four players to minor league deals and they have been assigned to the Reno Aces for the upcoming season.
Third baseman Wyatt Mathisen, outfielder Abraham Almonte, catcher Tyler Heineman and center fielder Andrew Aplin bring the total to six new faces to the Aces’ organization. Ex-Giant infielder Kelby Tomlinson and former Yankee infielder/outfielder Rob Refsnyder were signed to minor league contracts in late November. They also will compete in spring training for a spot on the Dbacks opening day roster.
Mathisen, 24, appeared in 78 games last season for the Indianapolis Indians, Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, before electing for free agency this season. He hit .248 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs.
Aplin, 27, is quite familiar with Reno. Aplin hit .265 with 62 hits for Tacoma last season. Fourteen hits came against the Aces. He has played for three teams in the PCL, including the Oklahoma City Dodgers, Fresno Grizzlies and his latest stop, the Tacoma Rainiers.
Heineman, 27, also elected for free agency this season. He bounced between Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox and with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers last season. Both teams were minor league affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Almonte, 29, has the most big-league experience. He played 352 career games with the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. He had a .237 batting average with 17 home runs, 93 RBIs and 24 stolen bases over his six-year career. Almonte appeared in 50 games with the Royals last season.
The Aces open their 2019 regular season campaign April 4 with a five-game road series against the Pacific Northern Division champion Fresno Grizzlies. They make their home debut April 9 against the Albuquerque Isotopes.
— Isaiah Burrows