WASHINGTON – Matt Cronin, 22, sat in his hotel room in Fredericksburg on Saturday afternoon, a set of golf clubs behind his chair to his right.
But the lefty reliever – who could be on the fast track to the majors – hasn’t been hitting the links too much these days. He leaves that to pitcher Cade Cavalli and infielder/catcher Brandon Snyder, a product of Westfield High in Northern Virginia.
“I haven’t gotten to golf too much. I’ve only been a few times,” Cronin told reporters on Zoom. “Cade, he goes pretty much every day. I go when I can, but I don’t like to golf right before I pitch and I’ve been pitching kind of often. Out of the guys I’ve played with, I would say probably Cavalli is the best, but I’ve also heard Snyder, he’s pretty good.”
Cronin, a reliever drafted out of the University of Arkansas, is one of a few players who was at low Single-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic and is now part of the 60-player pool at the alternate site. Other Suns from 2019 who have made it to Fredericksburg include pitchers Nick Wells and Tim Cate (who ended the year at Potomac) and infielders Jackson Cluff and Drew Mendoza.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment at first, just facing more seasoned hitters, guys who knew the zone a little better and are used to seeing higher quality stuff, and I was struggling just attacking hitters when I first got here, but after the adjustment was made I’ve been performing well and it’s been a good time,” Cronin told Federal Baseball.
A fourth-round pick in 2019, Cronin had a 0.82 ERA in 17 games out of the bullpen last year for Hagerstown and gave up just 11 hits in 22 innings.
Now he has been able to face Major League hitters and work with player development pitching coordinator Brad Holman, who was the Triple-A pitching coach last season in Fresno.
“He’s just been big, he’s been kind of enforcing on me to just really attack hitters and to believe in my stuff, and one thing he really helped me with recently was my curveball, and it’s been really good my last five or six outings now, and I can probably say that’s because of him,” Cronin said, of working with the former Seattle pitcher.
A Florida native, Cronin has big goals for himself.
“For me personally my goal was when I got the invite I knew anything could happen this crazy year and I knew I wanted to make a push and try to debut this year, and so that was my goal, and just getting here and just working out and trying to continue what I’ve done in the past, and grow upon that,” he said.
That is right – he wants to pitch in the majors soon. As a reliever, that could happen sooner rather than later.
“I think it should be a goal for everyone,” Cronin said Saturday. “I think everyone should want to get there as soon as possible and especially with the position I am coming out of college as a reliever and sticking as a reliever in pro ball I think I have a chance to move quickly and so that is my goal.”
Working with Holman has been part of the process with his mentality of facing hitters and where to throw the ball.
“Yeah, I think just the biggest thing with the mentality change was before I was trying to get a swing and miss on every pitch, and now it’s more of I’m trying to get the hitter out on every pitch. And then once I get to that 0-or 1-2 count, I can get a little selfish and I can try to put the hitter away,” he said.
At Arkansas, he had a 2.00 ERA in 23 games out of the pen in 2019. He pitched in 25 games as a sophomore in 2018 and 15 times as a freshman.
“I started all through high school,” he said, “and thought I was going to go to college and start, but got there my freshman year and there was already a few good starters, and so I kind of told the coach I wanted to be the closer and I didn’t really close much really at all my freshman year, but it was a good stepping stone just getting those relief outings and innings in, and that experience, and then my sophomore year took over the closer’s role and never looked back.”
“It’s more of a mental game, just having to throw more often and having to balance back and forth night after night or every couple days, whereas in high school you’d get that one start and then you’d get a whole week to mentally just rest and not really think about pitching, as a reliever you’ve kind of just got to really stay locked in and you’ve got to be ready night after night,” he added. “My best pitch by far is my fastball, it’s just really high spin rate and the spin is really efficient on it. When it’s playing well, it’s very hard to hit and to barrel up, so that’s what I really relied on in college and now with Brad helping me with my curveball and getting that more consistent and being able to throw it I’ve been mixing that in and it’s been really effective and everything has been going well with it.”
Earlier this summer, he was able to watch lefty reliever Sean Doolittle up close as the University of Virginia product spent time at the alternate site while on the IL.
“I really didn’t talk to him much,” Cronin said. “He was only down there I guess, what was it like a week. He was on a slightly different schedule sometimes, so we wouldn’t even run into each other occasionally, but yeah, I would watch him and I know I’ve watched him in college and stuff because I knew we had very similar fastballs and the way we pitched and approached hitters, so I’ve definitely studied him and watched him pitch, but I never really got the chance to talk to him.”
While the future of Doolittle – once again on the IL – is uncertain, Cronin hopes to join the bullpen crew in the majors sooner rather than later.
“It’s exciting. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to and what I’ve been working towards and it’s — like I said earlier, it’s my main goal is to get there and stay there. And so yeah, I’m really hoping that with everything that’s gone on this year and how unfortunate, it’s really hopefully helped me a lot this year and helped me for the next year to really start myself off strong,” he said.
Jackson Rutledge, another young pitcher at the alternate site, has been impressed with Cronin.
He “has been one of the most dominant relievers. He spins the fastball really high, and guys just have a hard time catching up to it. Maybe he’ll get a shot this year. If not this year then the next,” said Rutledge, the top pick in 2019.