After back surgery, Cronin looking for more command


Age on opening day 2024: 26

How acquired: Drafted in fourth round in 2019 from University of Arkansas

Ranking: NR per MLB Pipeline, No. 29 per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2023
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

Signing bonus: $464,500

2023 levels: Triple-A Rochester

2023 stats: 1-1, 5.02 ERA, 14 G, 0 GS, 14 ⅓ IP, 13 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 2 HR, 14 BB, 13 SO, 0 HBP, 1.884 WHIP

Quotable: “Surgery was a success! Huge thank you to Dr. Tolli for getting me fixed up. For those that don’t know, I had been dealing with pain in my left shoulder/arm for the last 2 years but could never seem to find anything wrong with them. That was up until about a month ago when we decided to have my spine checked out and found a large herniated disc at my C5-C6 level. The road to recovery starts now and I’m very blessed to have the 2 most important women in my life by my side as I go through this process. God is good.” – Matt Cronin via Instagram

2023 analysis: Cronin’s three seasons in the SEC at Arkansas – which ended with an impressive 1.86 ERA, 1.034 WHIP and 42 strikeouts over 25 appearances in 2019 – put him on the fastrack up the Nationals’ organizational ladder.

After being a fourth-round selection in 2019, he made his professional debut at Single-A Hagerstown later that year and impressed by allowing just two earned runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA) with a 1.000 WHIP, 41 strikeouts and 11 walks in 17 appearances.

Of course, he missed the 2020 season due the COVID-19 pandemic but came back to make 10 appearances apiece at High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg. Along with three appearances at the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, the left-hander had a 3.00 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 50 strikeouts and 16 walks in 30 innings over 23 appearances in 2021.

Cronin split time last year between Harrisburg and Rochester, posting a combined 4-1 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.096 WHIP, 56 strikeouts and 22 walks in 52 innings over 48 appearances. That was good enough for the Nats to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him from last December’s Rule 5 draft.

But back at Rochester this year, the southpaw struggled. In only 14 games, he had a 5.02 ERA and 1.884 WHIP while walking more batters (14) than he struck out (13).

In early August, Cronin announced he had season-ending surgery for a herniated disc in his back to fix the pain in his left arm and shoulder he had apparently been dealing with for the past two years.

While still on the 40-man roster, the Nationals designated Cronin for assignment on Nov. 6 when all players on the 60-day injured list were reinstated. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Rochester on Nov. 10.

2024 outlook: Hopefully, Cronin’s late-season surgery solves his struggles from this year, and he can return to his once-dominant self.

The Nationals are also hoping relieving his arm/shoulder pain clears up his command issues, which led to an unusually high walk rate in his short amount of playing time this season.

Unfortunately, Cronin’s timetable to return from surgery is still unclear.

Whenever he does return to the mound, the 6-foot-2 left-hander’s future remains in the bullpen. His 65-grade fastball comes in the mid-90s with vertical break and strong spin efficiency. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball with promising depth with plus potential when located properly. He has also worked on a split-changeup, which hasn’t developed to the point where it’s a strong third option.

With control issues hopefully fixed by the surgery and a strong two-pitch arsenal, Cronin could eventually evolve into a true late-inning weapon. But first, he must return to the mound and regain his success in the minors before possibly pushing for a major league bullpen spot. He obviously didn't reach his 2023 major league ETA, as projected by MLB Pipeline, but if his recovery goes well, he could make it in 2024.

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