SURPRISE, Ariz.—Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow had very similar experiences after ending their college careers in 2008.
The two pitchers are now Arizona Fall League teammates with the Surprise Rafters after spending the early part of the fall with their respective organizations’ instructional league teams—Scheppers with the Rangers and Crow with the Royals.
Both were high draft picks in 2008. Crow, 22, was the Nationals’ first-round pick (ninth overall) while Scheppers, also 22, was taken by the Pirates with the second pick in round two (49th overall).
Neither righthander agreed to terms prior to the Aug. 15, 2008 signing deadline; they both pitched for independent league teams before re-entering the 2009 draft.
In 2009, the Royals popped Crow with the 12th overall pick, while Scheppers went 32 picks later to the Rangers in the supplemental first round. They eventually signed contracts on the same day—Sept. 17. Scheppers received a bonus of $1.25 million while Crow inked a major league deal worth $3 million plus incentives.
Shortly after signing, they both reported to instructional league for their first tastes of affiliated professional baseball.
Scheppers ranked 10th on BA’s Top 200 draft prospects during his junior season at Fresno State before injuring his right shoulder, an injury that kept him out of his team’s unlikely run to the 2008 College World Series championship. He opted to rehab the injury, eventually diagnosed as significant wear and tear, rather than having surgery.
His performance in the AFL in the season’s first two weeks was very impressive, with six strikeouts over five scoreless innings while yielding only one hit and one walk.
“I’ve still got a lot of stuff I need to work on,” said Scheppers, “keeping the ball down and working on that changeup. That’s really been the goal for what they (the Rangers) want me to do.”
Even more importantly, Scheppers’ shoulder feels fine. His pre-injury velocity is back, as he’s regularly reached 98-99 mph in AFL games.
“It feels great,” said Scheppers about his shoulder. “It hasn’t felt any better. Texas has got me on a great program. I’ve been following it and doing what they’ve been telling me to do. So far, it’s been working out.”
“His mound presence has been outstanding,” said Rafters manager Andre David (Royals). “He’s attacking the strike zone, and his confidence pitch to pitch has been outstanding. I don’t think he worries about anything else but competing when he goes out there.”
Scheppers is already buying into the Rangers’ pitching philosophy espoused by team president Nolan Ryan, which emphasizes pitchers doing long toss between starts and throwing more live batting practice.
“I’m just now developing into it,” he said. “Now that I’m with the Rangers I’m trying to absorb everything they’ve got.”
“They definitely focus on classroom stuff and situations in a game. I really like that. It keeps your mind fresh so that when you get out there everything just comes naturally. I really like that about the organization . . . the shoulder program and the workout facilities are amazing.”
Scheppers’ only contact with Ryan so far is receiving a baseball and a note of congratulations from the Hall of Fame pitcher.
“I can’t wait to be able to pick his brain and be under one of the greatest,” Scheppers said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Crow was ranked as the top righthander available in the ’08 draft after his junior season at Missouri, where he earned first team All-America honors after posting a 12-0, 2.56 season. He failed to come to terms with the Nationals at the signing deadline and wound up pitching 17 innings for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association, going 3-0, 1.06 with 17 strikeouts.
After reporting to the Royals complex in Surprise, Crow pitched in four instructional league games, working on all four of his pitches (fastball, sinker, slider and changeup). He said that his fastball touched 95 and was generally around his normal working velocity of 92-93 mph.
“He showed plus movement on his fastball, a tight slider, and a very aggressive mindset,” said Royals’ pitching coach Mark Davis, who worked instructional league. “I like how he threw the ball.”
Crow was added to the Rafters roster just this weekend and is expected to make his AFL debut later in the week. Like Scheppers, he’s eager to finally see his name in a professional box score.
“It feels great just being out there again,” Crow said. “It’s a great experience. It’s what I always dreamed about doing—playing professional baseball—so getting this opportunity is awesome.”
Both pitchers learned valuable lessons during the 12-month period between the 2008 and 2009 drafts.
Scheppers kept a positive attitude through the whole ordeal and believes that everything that happened was beneficial in the long run. “Everything you go through in life helps you in some kind of way,” he said. “I got to learn about myself . . . to be patient, and learned a lot about my body and how to take care of myself. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
Crow believes that the experience was beneficial in that he essentially became his own pitching coach during that year after college.
“Going through that whole ordeal, I was on my own a lot of time,” said Crow. “It sped up the process of me being able to figure out what was wrong, like what I’m missing and doing stuff wrong with my delivery or with different pitches.”
Since becoming Rafters teammates, Scheppers and Crow have talked about their common experiences.
“We’ve only been together for one day,” said Crow, “but we talked a little bit about it. Everything sounds pretty similar.”
Very similar, indeed.
• Two of the AFL’s higher profile hitting prospects, Jason Heyward (Braves) and Mike Stanton (Marlins), have been out of action due to minor injuries. Stanton, who had multiple hits in four of his six games, has not played since Oct. 22 as a precautionary measure due to a sore back. Heyward hasn’t played since Oct. 17 due to a strained gluteus muscle; the Braves remain hopeful that he is dealing with a minor injury and will be able to resume playing within the next couple of days.
• Desert Dogs outfielder Grant Desme (Athletics) got hot with eight home runs overall and six in his last five games.
• Other players leaving the league due to injury include Scott Sizemore (Tigers), David Lough (Royals), Austin Romine (Yankees) and Lucas Duda (Mets). Sizemore has a broken left ankle. Big league catcher Taylor Teagarden (Rangers) will replace Romine on the Surprise roster. Lough was replaced by outfielder Jarrod Dyson (Royals).