Jake Cronenworth Fully Embraces Two-Way Role
Jake Cronenworth initially wasn’t sure.
He had done pretty well playing shortstop while working his way up the minor league ladder, and the 2015 seventh-round pick from Michigan was penciled in as a starter at Triple-A Durham in 2019.
But here were his Rays bosses suggesting during spring training he try his hand at becoming a two-way player, which he did in college.
"I kind of wanted to take those two, three weeks from when we first spoke about it to think, 'Is this the right move?' " Cronenworth said. "And then the first day of the season, I went up to Michael Johns, one of our field coordinators, and I said, 'Hey, let’s do it.’ ‘’
Cronenworth’s initial reaction from his bullpen sessions wasn’t encouraging, but he improved.
"Early on it’s frustrating because you’re used to doing it at a certain level. And after those four years (at college), you really just can’t get back to that level,’’ he said. "But after about three weeks and throwing in my first game (on May 18), I was like, 'Wow, that felt really good.’ ‘’
Cronenworth pitched in seven games for Durham, then after missing more than a month with a hamstring strain he returned in mid-August exclusively as a position player as the Bulls chased a playoff spot.
But the seven games on the mound—7.1 innings, two unearned runs, four hits, eight walks (five in the first two games), nine strikeouts—were enough to convince him, and the Rays, to stick with the two-way plan. He touched 96 mph and threw a swing-and-miss curveball.
Cronenworth started six of the games, essentially as an opener, and that was all he did that day. But his June 28 game at Toledo hinted at possibilities.
Cronenworth started at shortstop, and had already taken four at-bats as the Bulls built an 8-2 lead by the fifth. After the Mud Hens scored a couple runs, he moved to the mound, got the Bulls out of the fifth and handled the sixth. That ended his day, but it’s easy to see a scenario where he could come in and pitch to a couple batters and then return to the field.
"I’d love to do that,’’ he said. "If that’s another opportunity I can help my team by doing that, that’s great.’’
— To the surprise of no one, the Rays named Wander Franco minor league player of the year and Joe Ryan the top pitcher.
— Among other team award winners: Vidal Brujan was named the top baserunner, Tyler Zombro top reliever, Taylor Walls top defensive player and pitcher Simon Rosenblum-Larson was named the Erik Walker community champion.