The Diamondbacks weren’t a bad offensive club in 2019, but they were a middle-of-the-pack unit in the National League in terms of total runs (sixth overall with 813), home runs (ninth, 220) and wRC+ (seventh, 94). Like most contending clubs with a good bit of depth, those numbers should tick up if the league implements a universal DH in 2020, as seems increasingly likely.
For the Diamondbacks, the most established beneficiary on the roster is lefty swinging Jake Lamb. Shoulder injuries have torched the 29-year-old’s past two seasons, and the former everyday third baseman has since lost that spot to Eduardo Escobar as a result. With a DH added to the mix, Lamb could rotate between designated hitter and both infield corners, providing occasional breathers for Escobar and 2019 breakout performer Christian Walker — at least against right-handed pitching. Lamb has struggled mightily in his career against southpaws, though, so he’d likely need to be platooned.
Enter Kevin Cron.
The righty swinging younger brother of slugger C.J. Cron has never been considered among the D-backs’ top prospects, in part because of a lack of defensive value and the type of plodding speed you’d expect from a 6’5″, 250-pound first baseman. But Cron has consistently hammered minor league pitching, and never more so than in 2019, when he belted a minor-league-leading 39 home runs in just 84 games. (Yes — the Triple-A ball was also juiced.)
Cron logged a ridiculous .331/.449/.777 slash with a career-high 16.2 percent walk rate and a 20.4 percent strikeout rate with Triple-A Reno. He only received 78 plate appearances in the Majors, due in no small part to the breakout of Walker, who is also a stellar defender at first base. That said, Cron tacked on another six round-trippers in the big leagues, bringing his season total to 45 in just 460 plate appearances.
Lamb might get the first look at DH — he’s playing on a $5.525MM contract after all — but Cron should be in line for at least a platoon gig early in the season. Further injuries to Lamb or some struggles at the plate could open the door for a wider look. It’s not a given that Cron’s minor league dominance would carry over to the big leagues — he’s not even ranked in their top 30 prospects at Baseball America and sits just 26th at MLB.com — but when you homer in nearly 10 percent of your 400-plus plate appearances, it’s probably time for a legitimate chance.
Beyond Cron and Lamb, the D-backs have prospect Seth Beer working his way toward the Majors. He came over from Houston in the Zack Greinke swap and is a bat-first corner option himself, although he’s yet to appear in Triple-A. Versatile Swiss army knives like Josh Rojas and Andy Young can be plugged in all over the diamond, giving the Snakes increased opportunities to spell Ketel Marte, David Peralta, Kole Calhoun, etc. with a day at designated hitter as well.
The D-backs have the depth to take a mix-and-match approach to the DH spot, plus one veteran option looking for a bounceback … but the most interesting thread to follow will be whether 2019’s minor league home run king can capitalize on an opportunity he didn’t expect to have when Spring Training originally commenced.