LOVES PARK, Ill. – Two of the Rockford Rivets’ top hitters from last season, including the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, are among three players with Rivets ties drafted by Major League Baseball on Wednesday.
Three members of the 2016 Rivets – outfielder Michael Smith, second baseman David Cronin and power-hitting utilityman Hunter Hargrove – went on the final day of the three-day MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Tampa Bay Rays took Smith in the 18th round. The Chicago White Sox picked Cronin in the 20th round. Hargrove, who played in the College World Series for Texas Tech University last spring and was named this season’s Big 12 Player of the Year last month, went in the 25th round to the Oakland A’s.
The Rockford trio is among 180 current and former Northwoods League players who were picked by the 30 major-league teams in the draft, which began on Monday.
Smith was picked out of junior-college national runner-up San Jacinto (Texas) College. In 41 games with the Rivets last summer, Smith hit .248 with no home runs and 14 RBI. As a San Jacinto sophomore this spring, he hit .333 with two home runs and 29 RBI and stole 22 bases in 27 tries.
“He was a highly touted recruit out of high school,” Rivets manager Brian Smith said. Michael Smith, who had transferred from Kansas State, was recruited to the Rivets by Rockford teammate Corey Wright. “Michael came in and played a ton. He didn’t hit as well as we’d hoped… (but) he came in and fit in well with the guys.”
Should Cronin, who just finished his junior season at the University of Illinois-Chicago, sign with the White Sox, it will cost the Rivets their top returning hitter and incumbent second baseman. Last season with Rockford, Cronin hit .316, the highest average among Rivets with enough plate appearances to qualify for the league batting title. Cronin hit three home runs, drove in 30 runs and stole 27 bases in 31 tries over 59 Northwoods League games. This spring with the Flames, Cronin hit .313 with six home runs and 32 RBI.
“He’s every managers’ dream as a player and he’s every managers’ nightmare,” Smith said. “He’s just one of those guys you’re happy he’s on your team. … When he has a bad day, he realizes it’s just a game. He stays loose, and is able to enjoy the game as much as he does.”
Cronin was the lone Rivet to play in the Northwoods League’s annual scouting showcase, the Major League Dreams doubleheader, held each August in Madison. Cronin had not yet joined the Rivets for the current Northwoods season, pending the results of the draft.
Though Cronin was not among the taller second basemen available in the draft, Smith had been quite vocal for months that he expected Cronin to be drafted.
“There is not one person on the planet who hustles as much as David Cronin,” Smith said. “He’s driven to prove people wrong. He’s 5-(foot)-7, but he plays like he’s 6-4.”
Like Cronin, Smith said, the 6-foot-tall Hargrove may be considered undersized.
Though Hargrove missed the first month of the 2016 Northwoods season because of the Texas Tech’s run to the College World Series, he led the Rivets in the other two Triple Crown categories. He batted .306 with eight home runs and 36 RBI.
Hargrove made an immediate impact last June 30, when he homered in his first at-bat at Rivets Stadium. Hargrove hit a pair of three-run homers in an 8-7 win over Kalamazoo.
Hargrove took over as Tech’s starting third baseman in the middle of last season when he hit a hot streak, but it wasn’t clear 12 months ago what his spot in Lubbock would be in 2017.
“When we took him last summer, (Tech’s coaching staff) didn’t know what his role was going to be,” Smith said. “They knew he was going to be an offensive juggernaut who needed the at-bats.
“He came up here last year with all the confidence in the world after getting hot during the (Big 12) season. He got in his car and drove to Rockford a day and a half after getting eliminated (in the CWS).”
With Rockford, Hargrove appeared in all three outfield spots and every infield position but shortstop.
“He’s a guy you trust,” Smith said.
As a senior this spring with the Red Raiders, Hargrove moved to first base and hit a team-high .343 with five home runs and 51 RBI. The Big 12 named him Player of the Year on May 23. He’s also been named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Award, college baseball’s top honor.
Both Cronin and Hargrove reached NCAA Division I regional action with their schools this spring, but neither UIC nor TTU advanced to super regionals.
The Rockford Rivets are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League, in its 24th season of summer collegiate baseball. The Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, 170 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (Washington Nationals), two-time World Champion Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox), Jordan Zimmermann (Detroit Tigers), Curtis Granderson (New York Mets) and Lucas Duda (Mets). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website, NorthwoodsLeague.com.
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