When Missouri righthander Aaron Crow touched 98 mph with his fastball in the Cape Cod League this summer, it wasn’t something his college coach had forecasted for him earlier in his career.
Crow stepped into Missouri’s starting rotation his freshman year in 2006, pitching in the high 80s with his fastball and usually topping out around 90 mph.
“You never expect a guy who’s just touching 90 to get to the upper 90s,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “You just never project that.
“His delivery is much better now. It wasn’t bad when he got here, but his conditioning level has continued to get better, which helped his velocity. And his confidence is better. I think it’s just a natural progression that any player has when he works hard.”
A native of Topeka, Kan., the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Crow is now one of the top pitchers in the country. Although there is still some effort to his delivery, Crow credits his Missouri coaches for helping him better leverage the lower half of his body and for helping him improve the tempo of his delivery.
“Coach last year told me that less is more,” Crow said. “I was trying to throw everything as hard as I could, and my pitches would flatten out. When I’m relaxed and loose, I gain movement and I throw just as hard.
“Part of (the increased velocity) has been cleaning up mechanics. It’s also been better training. My arm’s gotten a lot stronger, and from day to day my stuff has gotten better.”
A good athlete, Crow complements his mid-90s fastball with a good slider—his second-best pitch—and a changeup.
“When I came here I threw more of a curveball than a slider, but I changed the way I hold it,” Crow said. “It made it easier to throw for strikes, and it allowed me to get better spin on the ball. I never had a changeup in high school because there was no need for one against that level of competition. I’ve just played catch every day, trying to get the feel for it.”
During his freshman season, Crow pitched in a rotation that included righthander Max Scherzer, who was the No. 11 pick in the 2006 draft.
“If you compare him to Max, Aaron has more pitches,” Jamieson said. “He’s got a better breaking ball and a better changeup than Max did, but there are a lot of similarities and differences in terms of where they are at the same stage of their career. Aaron’s offspeed pitches are swing-and-miss pitches; Max’s really weren’t. He has the ability to throw breaking balls in fastball counts, to throw 3-0 sliders and 3-1 changeups.”
Back in 2006, however, it was Scherzer who the scouts flocked to see, while Crow pitched well but had little to show for it. Crow made 13 starts and posted a 4.06 ERA for a 35-28 Missouri team that outscored its opponents 403-256 in 2006, yet he finished with a 1-4 record, something that he admits bothered him.
“It was a frustrating season,” Crow said. “I pitched well, but could never come up with a win. I felt like I just pitched well enough to lose.”
Crow exhibited fine control that year, issuing just 20 walks in 78 innings, and he kept the ball in the park by allowing two home runs. The problems came when the ball was put in play, as Crow allowed 94 hits.
“Confidence was a real issue as a freshman,” Jamieson said. “He didn’t have failure, he just had trouble winning games. He struggled most of his freshman year in terms of winning, but he always gave you a quality start.”
That all changed in the regional that year against Pepperdine, when Crow tossed a complete game, allowing just one run in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory, his first win of the season. It was a memorable moment for the Tigers, as Rick Zagone, also a freshman, had also tossed the first complete game of his career earlier in the day to defeat UCLA 2-1.
“In the regional, at that point, you knew he had a chance to be special,” Jamieson said.
The wins came last year for Crow, who went 9-4, 3.59 as the Tigers’ Friday night starter. His 118 innings and 90 strikeouts were both team-highs, and he issued only 33 walks, or 2.5 per nine innings.
“I really felt that he was the best pitcher in the Big 12 last year,” Jamieson said. “He’s consistent from the first pitch to the last pitch.”
He continued his fine season last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was the league’s top prospect after holding down a 0.36 ERA in 40 innings, striking out 36 and walking nine during the regular season. Crow made one appearance in the league’s playoffs, when he struck out seven in six innings, allowing just one run and three hits to pick up the victory.
“He’s the typical pitcher in a lot of ways,” Jamieson said. “He’s got a presence in terms of his competitiveness and his work ethic. He’s our hardest working pitcher, so the little parts of his game, like holding runners, that’s important to him. And he always has an edge of intensity no matter what he’s doing. But he’ s also a little bit free at times, a little bit loose. He’s just a great baseball personality.”