Crowe Gets His Chance
Now on 40-man roster, outfielder sees an opportunity
When the curtain rises on the Indians' spring training campus in a few weeks, wide-eyed minor leaguers invited to big league camp could get so caught up in the awe of it all that they forget to let themselves have fun and, thus, make impressions.
One by one, the names will pile on top of one another on the list of roster casualties.
However, for outfielder Trevor Crowe, the Indians' 2005 first-round pick whose career veered back on course last year, the plan is not to become one. After all, a poor showing in camp would, in essence, further raise questions of whether his talent will truly connect to production.
"I want to go into camp," Crowe said during a Christmas visit in his native Oregon, "and put as much pressure on the organization as possible."
He's not alone, of course. Crowe represents a handful of intriguing players from the pile of November 40-man additions who could play small, if not influential, roles next season.
Of course, the usual track of such minor leaguers follows a much more meandering path, with teams creating roster space with long-range thinking in mind. Yet in every season, a handful of players who teams protected ahead of the winter meetings emerge as role players the following summer, and the crop from November 2007 offers a collective test case.
Among last year's group emerged Cardinals righthanded reliever Kyle McClellan and Rays speedster Fernando Perez.
McClellan won a job in camp and went wire to wire with the Redbirds, fueling the St. Louis relief corps with nearly 76 innings and 68 appearances.
Perez, then at Triple-A Durham, became a YouTube sensation in late-August, thanks to a juke of a catcher after over-running home plate. Five weeks later, he scored the winning run for the Rays in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. And, oh, don't forget about Dodgers righthander James McDonald, who tossed 51⁄3 scoreless innings in the NLCS against the Phillies.
Of the latest batch of 40-man additions, Crowe appears to be the most likely candidate to emerge following the trade of Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners.
"He's not far away," Indians assistant general manager John Mirabelli said of Crowe. "We like his athleticism and we like his switch-hitting ability, (his ability) to get on base and play three outfield positions."
On His Shoulders
Then again, the onus is on Crowe to produce right away, an expectation typically not shouldered upon less-heralded athletes seeking to become unsung, loveable role players.
In Crowe's case, he banked $1.695 million in bonus money as the 14th overall pick in 2005 following an impressive amateur career that featured a College World Series berth with the Arizona Wildcats and time with Team USA.
A fiery competitor, he hit a team-best .304 as a junior, while racking up 106 hits, the second-most in Arizona history. He also contributed a Pacific-10 Conference-record 15 triples. And if his status within the Indians organization wasn't clear—and some scouts had reservations about his first-round worthiness—Cleveland went a step further and sent a clear message that following January when it traded outfielder Coco Crisp to the Red Sox.
Unfortunately for the Indians, Crowe failed to seize on the situation. His stock fell from the end of 2006 to early 2007 when a move to second base became a disaster, impeding his offensive growth as well, and it wasn't until late July 2008 that he reached Triple-A Buffalo.
Where last year was geared toward attaining 40-man status, the upcoming season represents far greater meaning, and it's not lost on Crowe, who has been humbled by setbacks but isn't afraid to acknowledge what he believes needs to happen.
In trading Gutierrez to the Mariners, the Indians' only outfield locks are Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo, with David Dellucci expected to be a heavy contributor.
That places Crowe in the mix along with toolsy outfielder Ben Francisco, Michael Brantley and possibly Matt LaPorta, although Crowe's versatility could be more coveted and perhaps could earn him time at some point in the season.
There are two issues at play here: For starters, Crowe can bat leadoff, suggesting he also could be valuable deeper in the lineup, and has plenty of speed. Beyond that, the health concerns that bubbled up early in the 2008 season are no longer a conversation piece within the Indians system.
Crowe's optimism is rooted in a fully healed herniated disc in his lower back. The injury crept up late in spring training and quickly became problematic. Four days into the season, Crowe headed to the disabled list, with the injury severing six weeks from his season.
A healthy outlook has infused Crowe with renewed confidence. In a recent phone conversation, the tone of his voice clearly was upbeat, with the outfielder all but filling up a reporter's notepad.
"This is definitely a big year for me. I just turned 25 (in November)," Crowe said. "Now, it takes a lot for someone to say they are going to give a guy a shot at the major league level.
"But the most important thing people are going to remember you for is how you fare at the major league level. It's not where you got drafted. It's not how much money you got. Whether you're 22 or 27, it doesn't matter so long as you stick. In their eyes, you have to earn the opportunity."
He went on, albeit with some caution. In Crowe's career, he has seen Francisco bounce back and forth from the majors to the minors. He's also been witness to talented athletes, such as outfielder Brian Barton, go unprotected from the 40-man.
"I think if you look historically at how the Cleveland Indians have handled it, that's a tough jump to make," Crowe said.
Crowe also doesn't view his addition to the 40-man as a double-edged sword. Had he not been protected, he likely would have been plucked away in the Rule 5 draft and given a clearer opportunity elsewhere, much like Barton, a former Double-A Akron teammate who was drafted away by the Cardinals in December 2007.
Barton spent the entire 2008 season with St. Louis.
"There's so much in this game that's out of your control," Crowe said. "Bottom line, I'm happy to be added to the Cleveland Indians' 40-man roster. Given an opportunity to play at the major league level and succeed, I think it's going to be a good fit for both of us. I think I can do things to bring some energy and enthusiasm and bring speed in that they're looking for in a big league player."
Fortunately for Crowe, he managed to hit .324/.404/.485 in his return to Akron in 2008, and then hit .274/.350/.486 for Buffalo. For the season, he had 28 doubles, nine home runs, four triples, 18 stolen bases and 41 RBIs.
However, he declined the Indians' request to play in the Dominican League.
"The way I look at it is, I need to be prepared and do what I need to do," Crowe said. "After that, it's in Eric Wedge's and Mark Shapiro's hands. (Trading Gutierrez) helps my situation a little bit. But you still have to beat out other major leaguers."