Prospect Pulse: Nov. 24

Crowe happy to be back in the outfield




MESA, Ariz.--Since high school, Trevor Crowe has always shown a certain confidence--a swagger--that is a huge part of his game.

He had it for three years at Arizona, helping him become the Indians' first-round pick in 2005, and he carried it with him to his pro debut later that year. He had it at high Class A Kinston last season, and it was even more evident after a June promotion to Double-A Akron.

But suddenly the swagger disappeared when he was asked to move to second base in August.

"For me, this is a guy who can do it all--hit for average with some pop, excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition, and he's an average to above-average defender in the outfield," a scout from an American League club said. "That move--particularly to move him and keep him at the same level--seemed curious."

Crowe, who played some second in high school and in college, appeared to be a solid candidate for the position because of his athleticism and aptitude. But when Crowe actually made the move, it was quickly apparent it was a mistake. He committed six errors in six games, and he lost his focus at the plate as the problems mounted in the field.

"The main thing with me was I was just never comfortable on a baseball field at second base," Crowe said. "And I didn't realize during a game how much I don't really think, I just react, and when I was playing second base I didn't realize how much preparation goes into playing that position. And then having to do that, then turn my mind off when I was on the bases and at the plate . . . It was just very hard for me to do.

"I've always been a good outfielder. Out there, I'd think, 'OK, I'm 0-for-2, but I can pick something up with my defense.' But at second I was thinking, 'Oh crap, I just let in two runs because that groundball went through my legs, now I have to hit a three-run homer here.' There was just so much going through my head. I definitely lost my confidence. It was a really rough time on me mentally."

Crowe moved back to the outfield for the Eastern League postseason. But the Indians still wanted him to work more at second during instructional league before making the final decision on where he would play in the Arizona Fall League.

To his credit, the 22-year-old performed better there, committing a pair of errors in seven games at second base. But changing positions in the controlled environment of instructional league is a world apart from playing an unfamiliar position in Double-A or even the fall league.

"If you're looking at this in the big picture--what's going to happen in the big leagues with 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium compared to getting a little bit better in instructs for two weeks--these are separate issues," Crowe said. "And I just don't think in the timeframe that the Indians or I envisioned in this move I would have been able to be successful at second base at that high level.

"I feel like I'm 22 years old, I was in Double-A this year, but I have so much more to prove. And the Arizona Fall League is an outstanding opportunity for me to prove my level of play against all these great players every day. So for me, I definitely wanted to get out here for the whole season, be healthy and come play as an outfielder to play at a high level and show everyone that I can be consistent against this kind of a competition."

On The Job Learning

But Crowe wasn't quite back to his natural position in the AFL, either, though this move should prove worthwhile. With the Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury--a fellow product of an Oregon high school and the Pacific-10 Conference--the primary center fielder for the Peoria Javelinas, Crowe is the everyday left fielder. And with Grady Sizemore firmly entrenched in center in Cleveland, left field is the position Crowe is likely to play in the big leagues anyway.

Learning left field again took some doing, as Crowe committed a pair of errors on the league's Opening Day. But he's settled in on the corner and his bat has been just fine: He was hitting .344 (21-for-61).

There are more things to work on in Arizona, and Crowe is his own biggest critic. He displays outstanding discipline at the plate, carrying a 68-71 walk-strikeout ratio during the regular season. But even that isn't quite good enough for the ultimate perfectionist.

"I thought it was good this year, but there are still some small refinements that need to take place in my plate discipline," Crowe said. "I don't mean that to be successful at Double-A, I mean that to be a true asset as a No. 1 or 2-hole hitter in the big leagues. The other thing I'm working on is staying back on balls. Sometimes I drift--not a lot--but occasionally I'll get into a habit where I drift.

"And then refreshing myself with left field--getting better reads, jumps, that sort of thing. It's not anything major, but I just want to be really a true asset to a winning ballclub in the major leagues."

QUICK HITS

• Astros outfielder Hunter Pence was pulled from the AFL and placed on the suspended list by the club following his arrest on drunken-driving charges.

Pence, the second-round pick of the Astros in 2004, was arrested at 3:32 a.m. in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Oct. 29. The 23-year-old was charged with driving under the influence, a misdemeanor charge. Pence was hitting .339 with three homers in 62 at-bats for the Mesa Solar Sox.

"It's always disappointing when a player gets himself involved in these kinds of situations," Astros general manager Tim Purpura told the Houston Chronicle. "Hopefully there are experiences that the player will learn a lot from.

"Certainly, he put himself in jeopardy personally and put other people in jeopardy, if it's true. It's disappointing when these things happen, but as an organization it's our job to work with and deal with the situations with the player, and we're absolutely doing that."

• The Braves pulled catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the fall league after just 23 at-bats because of hamstring and groin problems. During his brief time in the league, Saltalamacchia, who batted just .230/.353/.380 during the regular season at Double-A Mississippi, was hitting .565 with three homers for the Peoria Javelinas.

• Phoenix righthander Kyle Yates (Blue Jays) has been impressing scouts in the AFL this fall, carrying 2-0, 1.13 numbers through 24 innings. While Yates has average stuff across the board, he's a strike-thrower who keeps his fastball down in the zone and has a knockout curveball to keep hitters honest. "He's come a long way in terms of learning how to attack hitters here," Desert Dogs pitching coach Tom Signore said. "He's shown great command of three pitches and we're seeing a lot of quality breaking balls. He's been very, very consistent out here." During the regular season, the 2004 13th-round pick out of Texas went a combined 8-9, 3.34 in 141 innings between high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.

• Twins infielder Matt Tolbert has done a little bit of everything for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall in the AFL. Tolbert, a 2004 16th-round pick out of Mississippi, was among the league leaders in batting with a .337 average in 83 at-bats. The 24-year-old has improved his stock in the organization through versatility, however. "He could be a super-utility guy in the big leagues for a long time," a scout from a National League club said. "He works counts, gets on base, has a knack for making solid contact--and in that utility-type role, he does all the little things right offensively and defensively. There's not a plus tool in there, but he can do a little bit of everything pretty much wherever you need it and still give you quality ABs."

• Rockies first baseman Joe Koshansky was battling back problems early in the fall, which caused him to slump at the plate. By the end of October, Koshansky was hitting just .160 and struggling to get comfortable with his swing. "I tweaked it a little bit in an early-morning workout and it wasn't the same since then," Koshansky said. "I don't think it's anything major, but I'm just not in any kind of comfort zone right now." That changed in November when Koshansky rolled out a modest five-game hit streak--including a pair of three-hit games and hit a pair of homers to up his average to .212 in 85 at-bats.

• Javelinas shortstop Yunel Escobar (Braves) had a big birthday week. Escobar hit a grand slam while going 3-for-5 on his 24th birthday, then had four hits and three RBIs on in his next game. He was leading the fall league with a .424 batting average and had five extra-base hits and 16 RBIs. He is not afraid to swing the bat, or put the ball in play--he had four walks and six strikeouts in his first 66 at-bats.

• Relievers were getting virtually all of the decisions in Arizona this year, because most of the starters are on pitch counts that usually limit them to four innings at the most. Javelinas righthander Kyle Jackson (Red Sox) led the league with four victories despite a 5.84 ERA, and four others had three victories: Grand Canyon lefthander A.J. Murray (Rangers) and righthander Jesse Chavez (Pirates), Saguaros lefthander Sean Henn (Yankees) and Phoenix righthander Jordan DeJong (Blue Jays). Among those five, Murray had the only start.