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Champ or Chump: Kevin Cron and Gavin Lux


While September callups are typically associated with Quad-A guys that fantasy owners are never going to hear from again, there were quite a few interesting names summoned this year. Kevin Cron of the Arizona Diamondbacks (and younger brother of C.J. Cron) could produce big power numbers if he gets a chance to play, making him a worthwhile speculative add if you're desperate for pop. He's also an intriguing name to stash in the back of your mind for 2020 drafts.

Of course, the biggest name is Gavin Lux of the Los Angeles Dodgers. You'd have to be insane not to roll the dice on his potential considering how late we are in the year, but there are several red flags in the top prospect's minor league profile that make this author leery of burning a lot of draft capital for his 2020.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their expectations. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're seen as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're perceived as a Tier 1 pitcher. All ownership rates are from Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise noted. Let's take a closer look at Cron and Lux, shall we?

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Kevin Cron (1B/3B, ARI)

1% Owned

Cron already owns 65 big league PAs on the season, slamming a respectable five homers but striking out an ugly 41.5% of the time. The good news is that the 26-year old has an extensive minor league resume that suggests the power is real while the K% won't be quite that bad. The bad news is that the suddenly contending D-Backs may not give him the chance to show what he can do until next year.

Cron first reached Double-A in 2016, but he was overwhelmed to the tune of .222/.278/.437 with 26 HR in 510 PAs. He struck out too often (26.2 K%), but a microscopic .248 BABIP was the biggest reason for his struggles. Importantly, he hit a ton of fly balls (52.4 FB%). We'll get back to that shortly.

Cron repeated the level in 2017, producing a much better .283/.357/.497 line with 25 long balls in 588 PAs. He walked more (9.5 BB% vs. 6.5% the year before) while striking out less (22.8 K%), always a good indication that a player is ready for a new challenge. His BABIP jumped to .332, and he again posted a very high FB% (50.4).

Cron graduated to Triple-A for 2018 and maintained most of his gains from the prior campaign. He hit .309/.368/.554 with 22 big flies in just 438 PAs, walking at a reasonable 8.2% rate while keeping the strikeouts in check (22.8 K%). He also posted a .359 BABIP and 47.3 FB%. Cron repeated the level this season, taking advantage of the new ball to slash a ridiculous .331/.449/.777 with 38 HR in just 377 PAs. His walk rate exploded (16.2 BB%), his strikeouts declined (20.4%), and he hit a million fly balls (49.8 FB%).

Clearly, Cron isn't as good as his Triple-A line this year because nobody is. However, his plate discipline metrics have consistently been good. Given time, Cron should be able to post comparable K% and BB% marks in the major leagues. More importantly, he hits a ton of fly balls with slightly above average power (60-grade per Baseball Savant). Rhys Hoskins and Pete Alonso both profiled similarly when they made their big league debuts, and both fared especially well in their rookie campaigns.

If you want one more tidbit of information, consider this: Cron's 27.3% rate of Brls/BBE ranks first among all big leaguers with at least 30 BBEs this season (Cron has 33). His 98.9 mph average airborne exit velocity ranks fifth in the same sample. Yes, it's a small sample. However, you can't fake special contact, and this is a guy who has been setting power records since he was in high school.

Cron's short-term outlook depends on how much Arizona believes in Jake Lamb, as that's who's playing time he would most likely be cutting into. Long-term, however, Cron is a guy who should be on far more fantasy radars than he currently is. He's probably available in your league, so why not take a chance?

Verdict: Champ (based on elite power upside that everybody seems to be sleeping on)

 

Gavin Lux (SS/2B, LAD)

48% Owned

Lux is a 21-year-old on the deepest team in baseball, so most pundits assumed that he wouldn't get a chance in 2019. Max Muncy is on the IL, however, and there are rumblings that Lux could make the club's postseason roster as a result. The former first-rounder's potential is through the roof, but might need to make a few adjustments before he's ready to anchor fantasy rosters.

Lux first cracked the High Minors last season, slashing .324/.408/.495 with four homers and a pair of steals in 120 PAs. He walked a lot (11.7 BB%) without striking out often (16.7 K%), always a good sign for a player's future. However, he had a hard time elevating the ball (27.4 FB%) despite plus power (17.4% HR/FB), presenting a clear avenue for improvement. He was also caught on the bases twice to go with his two steals, a 50% success rate that won't fly with a team as analytical as LA.

Lux returned to Double-A to begin the 2019 season, slashing .313/.375/.521 with 13 HR and seven steals in 291 PAs. Both his BB% (9.6) and K% (20.6) moved in the wrong direction but remained strong. His FB% fell to just 26.4% even as his HR/FB surged to 24.5%. He was also caught thrice on the bases. Still, his performance was good enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A and the nitro-charged baseball.

Lux took full advantage, slashing .392/.478/.719 with 13 homers and three steals (but three CS) in 232 PAs. His 32.5 FB% was slightly higher than it was at Double-A, but still not where fantasy owners would want it (26% HR/FB). His .451 BABIP is obviously unsustainable over a full season, but his plate discipline metrics (14.2 BB%, 18.1 K%) suggest that he's ready to make these adjustments at the highest level.

Lux was originally seen as a defense-first shortstop, but scouts have come around on his offensive upside as well. FanGraphs projects a 55-grade hit tool in the future (though it's only 35 right now), with 40/55 Game Power, 55/60 Raw Power, and 55-grade speed. Baseball Savant is more optimistic, seeing 60-hit, 55-power, and 60-run. Scouts also love his makeup, and Lux is reportedly working to add loft to his swing. Perhaps a conversation with teammate Justin Turner is in order?

Lux hit eighth in his MLB debut but first in his second big league start, so the Dodgers are sending mixed signals as to what his lineup role will be. A blend of power and speed with regular playing time in the loaded LA lineup is too good to pass up, so burning whatever FAAB you have left is probably the best short-term play here. However, a pedestrian success rate on MiLB stolen base attempts and low FB% rates suggest that he might still be a few years away from superstardom. Bid for his services in 2020 accordingly.

Verdict: Champ (as a waiver add in 2019), Chump (based on likely draft day cost in 2020)

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