A’s trust in Crosby to replace Tejada
February 14, 2004
By Casey Terfetiller
OAKLAND—It may be the ultimate vote of confidence that any young shortstop could ever receive. The Athletics didn’t bother adding any veteran backups to be those “just-in-case guys,” watching to see if Bobby Crosby falters in his major league debut.
The 24-year-old will be handed a difficult job this spring—taking over a vacancy at shortstop for a team that expects to contend for a pennant, and with no Plan B in place.
“He’s ready for the big leagues. I think he will be in the class with the other great shortstops,” said Tony DeFrancesco, who managed Crosby at Triple-A Sacramento last season.
There was some fear Crosby was being pushed too fast, too far last year when he was moved up to Triple-A in only his second full season as a professional. He responded with a .308-22-90 campaign and was named the Pacific Coast League’s rookie of the year.
No one is expecting Crosby to provide the power of an Alex Rodriguez. Nor is he likely to become a batting champion like Nomar Garciaparra. But the A’s feel he should hit above .270 with double-figure homers.
More importantly, Crosby has so improved his defense over the last two seasons the A’s have high expectations for his ability to handle the position. He has evolved into a steady shortstop who reads balls extremely well off the bat. He’s also shown consistency, as he is able to stay focused on the easy play as well as the tough one, something that’s often a problem for young shortstops.
When the A’s selected Crosby with the 25th pick of the first round in the 2001 draft, the mega-question was whether he would remain at shortstop or would have to move to third base. There was talk that at 6-foot-3, Crosby was too tall to remain at shortstop. It was the same rap that went against the 6-foot-4 Cal Ripken when he came up with the Orioles in 1981. Ripken proved the skeptics wrong. And now Crosby no longer has to hear comments about his height forcing him to third base.
“I grew up a shortstop; I always wanted to be a shortstop,” he said. “I felt if playing third base would get me to the big leagues, then I would do it. But shortstop was my position. I always felt I could play it and I wanted to do it in the big leagues. I’m certainly happy that I don’t have to hear about not being able to play it.”
Crosby may not have the superb quickness of the rangier shortstops, but he maximizes his skills to get to plenty of balls.
What is most impressive about Crosby during his two-and-a-half minor league seasons is that he just keeps getting better. He does not accept limitations; he finds ways to achieve beyond them.
Back at Long Beach State, he was considered an above-average defensive shortstop, with exceptional hands and quick feet. He knew he would have to keep improving once he reached the pros and he has worked diligently to do so. When he signed his first contract with the A’s, he hired a personal trainer to help with agility work and his flexibility improved immensely.
Crosby has excelled at first-step quickness, something the organization preaches. “It helps knowing what pitch is coming,” he said. “Once I know what pitch is coming, I read the angle of the bat and try to get a good first step.”
The A’s were surprised at Crosby’s improvement through the 2002 season, and even more startled by what occurred last season. With Miguel Tejada battling injuries, Crosby received a great deal of playing time during spring training last year. More importantly, he got plenty of time to work with infield coach Ron Washington.
Washington taught Crosby to take balls to the side rather than getting in front of them. This demands sure hands and concentration, but it will save an infielder time in making the throw across the diamond. The game gets faster with every level of development, and in the majors split seconds can be the difference between an out or not.
“He has made tremendous improvement,” farm director Keith Lieppman said. “His consistency is much better. He’s been real steady. He’s pretty sure-handed, that’s what everybody is seeing. He’s expanded his range to his left, and he’s been very accurate throwing.”
The increased flexibility and improved technique have carried Crosby to the threshold of a major league starting job. As soon as last season ended, it was apparent that the A’s were going to anoint Crosby with the shortstop role, a position that Bert Campaneris, Walt Weiss, Mike Bordick and Tejada have handled. Crosby has spent the winter preparing for the challenge of replacing Tejada, the 2002 MVP who signed with the Orioles in the offseason.
“I’ve worked my butt off ever since I left Oakland (at the end of the season),” he said. “I’ve been getting my mindset ready. I really think I’ve worked harder this offseason than I have in my life. I really don’t feel nervous. I don’t feel I’ve got to go out and do this or that. I’m just excited to go out and play, to play and succeed.”
Bobby has sought the advice of his father, Ed Crosby, a former major league infielder who has been scouting since 1979, including a four-year stint with the A’s in the early ’90s. “He says that if I go out and play my game, I’ll be fine,” Bobby said. “I’m not going to go out and be Miguel Tejada. If I thought that, I think I’d be fooling myself. I know what I can do, and I feel I’ll do a great job. If I did that—thinking I was going to be Tejada—I’d drive myself crazy.”
The senior Crosby expects his son to handle the pressure. “He has a mature makeup about him,” Ed Crosby said. “It’s a quiet confidence. He’s excited, of course, but I don’t think he’s overwhelmed. The A’s have groomed him just perfectly. (General manager) Billy Beane and the rest never tend to rush players, and they have not rushed Bobby.”
The Southern California native grew up around the ballpark, accompanying his father to college games and hanging with the other scouts. Bobby played his first three years of high school ball at Pacifica High in Garden Grove, where he was a short, skinny infielder. “I grew so much after my junior year,” Bobby Crosby said. “I was probably 5-9 my junior year, then 6-2 my senior year.”
After that junior year, Crosby left his friends in Garden Grove to transfer to La Quinta High in Westwood, a school that offered a better baseball team. “That was when he first became dedicated and said he’d make baseball a career,” Ed said.
He impressed enough to get drafted in the 34th round by the Angels and earn a scholarship to Long Beach State, where he emerged as one of the nation’s top collegiate shortstops. He earned the starting job for the U.S. national team during the summer of 2000 and brought home the MVP award at the Honkbal Baseball Week tournament in the Netherlands. In 2001, he hit .353-9-39 with 11 steals to win the Big West Conference player of the year award. That was when A’s scout Rick Magnante saw a player worthy of a first-round pick, and former scouting director Grady Fuson made the call that brought Crosby to Oakland.
An injury limited Crosby to 11 games his first season, but he broke out in 2002, splitting the year between Modesto and Double-A Midland. He hit .307-2-38 in 73 games at Class A before getting the callup, and he responded by hitting .281-7-31 for Midland. The A’s debated whether to send him back to Double-A in 2003, or start him at Triple-A. The decision was made to move him up quickly, and Crosby responded by improving both his defense and power numbers. As he has matured and gained strength, he has developed more power, both for homers and gap liners.
Now the major league job is his. After years of answering questions about his game, Crosby gets to face his biggest challenge yet. The A’s are confident he’ll pass the test.