Arizona Fall League Notebook: Oct. 27

See also: Previous Arizona Fall League Notebook

MESA, Ariz.–Since Trevor Crowe was in high school, he always had that certain confidence, that swagger, as a huge part of his game.

He had it for three years at Arizona, and carried it over to his pro debut after being a first-round pick in 2005. He had it in high Class A Kinston last season and even more after he was promoted to Double-A Akron in June.

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

“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.”

In theory, 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 made the move, it was apparent quickly that 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 for the Peoria Javelinas this fall.

To his credit, the 22-year-old performed better at instructs, committing a pair of errors in his 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.”

But Crowe isn’t quite back to his natural position in the AFL either, though this move should prove worthwhile. With Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox)–a fellow product of Oregon high schools and the Pacific-10 Conference–the priority center fielder for the Javelinas, Crowe is the everyday left fielder. With Grady Sizemore firmly entrenched in center in Cleveland for the foreseeable future, 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 Fall League’™s Opening Day. But he’™s settled in on the corner and his bat has been just fine, hitting .348 (16-for-46).

There are more things to work on in Arizona, and Crowe is his game’s biggest critic. He displays outstanding discipline at the plate, carrying a 71-68 strikeout-walk 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.”

PATENTED PATTON: Astros lefthander Troy Patton went through some growing pains during the regular season split between high Class A Salem and Double-A Corpus Christi, but the 21-year-old made a major step simply by proving durable during his second full season.

A ninth-round pick in 2004, Patton wore down considerably during 2005, eventually being shut down due to fatigue late in the year. But by jumping to Double-A this season, and playing deep into the Texas League playoffs and now the AFL, Patton has made a major leap forward.

The emergence of his changeup played a key role.

“Out here, it’s been my number two pitch for me,” Patton said. “I always like to establish fastballs, but I’ve been going to it a lot. Catchers seem to want to call it a lot, so that’s always a good thing. I didn’t use it as much in Corpus as I did in Salem, but really, that pitch went hand-in-hand with my success.”

Patton worked on his grip with the changeup, moving the ball further back in his hand, which allowed him to stay on top of it. That gives the pitch above-average depth and fade.

“He locates his fastball well all over the strike zone, his curveball is a plus pitch and the changeup looks a lot better than it did in Double-A,” a scout from an American League club said. “Good arm speed with the occasional late life. He needs to have more consistency with it, but that’ll come as his confidence grows the more he uses it.”

SALTY DOWN: Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been on a tear with the bat, hitting a pair of homers on Wednesday, but nagging hamstring injuries have limited his Fall League time so far. Saltalamacchia left Thursday’s game after one at-bat when his right hamstring flared up and is listed as day-to-day.

Saltalamacchia struggled offensively for three months at Double-A Mississippi before getting on a roll by hitting .357 with five of his nine homers coming in July.

“I stopped putting too much pressure on myself and just went out there swinging the bat,” Saltalamacchia said. “Everything was messed up–my whole swing was kind of messed up–my hands, my feet, my timing, everything. But when I got out here, I got with (high Class A Myrtle Beach hitting coach) Franklin Stubbs and he got me back to where I was in 2005. Thank God he’s out there, I’™ll tell you what.”

Through just 20 at-bats, Saltalamacchia is hitting .600/.692/1.100 with three of his 12 hits leaving the yard.

TWO-SEAM DREAM: Twins righthander Kevin Slowey rocketed through the system in his first full season, jumping all the way to Triple-A Rochester. The 2005 second-round pick out of Winthrop has arguably the best command in the minors, throwing three pitches for strikes and compiling a ridiculous 151-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 148 innings in 2006.

But Slowey added a two-seamer just before he got to Double-A New Britain, which gave him another option and played a significant role in his promotion to the next level.

“(High Class A Fort Myers pitching coach) Eric Rassmussen explained to me that the higher up you go, you’re not going to be able to just throw a straight fastball,” Slowey said. “Deception or not, if it’s straight, it is what it is. And what it is is hittable. So adding that really gives me another look, especially when I’m in trouble.

“When I need a groundball, I just keep throwing two-seamers with pretty decent sink down in the zone. Guys hit fastballs. And as you move up they just hit them harder and harder someplace. So it helps to have something that looks like a fastball, but then it tails down.”

When Slowey arrived in Arizona, he was greeted with the message that the Twins wanted him to get as close to 200 innings in as possible to prove further endurance and durability. So far, Slowey has spent the bulk of the AFL season coming out of the pen, with 0-0, 2.00 numbers in nine innings.

“I feel good–I don’t feel great,” Slowey said. “I don’t think many of the pitchers feel great out here unless they haven’t pitched much. If that’s what the Twins want, then they want me to prove I can go through a big league season. And I want to be able to show them that I can throw 200 innings and still be strong at the end. I might not be throwing as hard or having quite the movement, but can still go out there and get the job if they need me to.

“It shows that they have a lot of faith in me. It’s a good thing.”

SLEEPER OF THE DAY: It’s tough to call a guy who won the AFL’™s first player of the week honors a sleeper, but Mariners outfielder Michael Wilson certainly has some upside.

The 2001 second-round pick stopped switch-hitting about a year and a half ago to concentrate from the right side, and he took off at high Class A Inland Empire with .315/.360/.494 numbers in 249 at-bats. He didn’™t fare as well in Double-A (.245/.336/.446), but scouts see potential in the 23-year-old, particularly after he drove in 10 runs over two games Oct. 13-14.

“He’s made progress and has some ability you can’t create,” a scout from a National League club said. “The way the ball comes off his bat is special. He’s still learning, but when it clicks, it does it for me. He just needs to get it clicking on a consistent basis.

“He’s a good athlete for his size. He’s still raw, but he’s got tools.”


• Royals righthander Luke Hochevar was scratched from making tonight’™s start for the Western Division in the “Rising Stars Showcase,” which is the first-ever AFL all-star game. Hochevar has been experiencing some shoulder stiffness and went back to Kansas City to be examined by team doctors. General manager Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star, “All his strength tests are good, and his velocity was up to 94 (mph) in his last start. We don’™t think it’™s anything serious, but we’™re going to have Dr. (Steve) Joyce examine him.” 

• Lefthander Gio Gonzalez (Phillies) will make the start for the West against righthander Mike Pelfrey (Mets). Grand Canyon righthander Jesse Chavez (Pirates) will take Hochevar’s roster spot for the West Division.

• Phoenix infielder Ryan Klosterman (Blue Jays) is another casualty for the all-star game. Klosterman sustained a broken finger and will be replaced by Kevin Frandsen (Giants).

• Scorpions outfielder Terry Evans (Angels) is also down with an unspecified leg injury and will not make the trip to Surprise. Evans will be replaced by Diamondbacks’ super utilityman Mark Reynolds.