Crosby Gets His Chance To Shine For Whitecaps

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Before Tommy John surgery in 2007, Casey Crosby was an overpowering lefthanded high school pitcher who consistently threw his fast ball between 91 and 93 mph with the ability to occasionally touch 95 on the radar gun.

After surgery, after what he called the re-birth of his arm, Crosby worked in the 92-96 mph range and touched 98 this season, his first full professional season in the Tigers organization with the low Class A West Michigan Whitecaps.

A strong candidate to be named the Tigers' minor league pitcher of the year, the 2009 season has to be deemed a complete success for the 6-foot-5, 200 pound Crosby, who's been handled with care by the Tigers.

"The biggest concern coming off Tommy John surgery is learning to trust your arm again," West Michigan pitching coach Mark Johnson said. "Crosby has to learn what's hurting and what's just stiff. He also has to learn to challenge himself again."

On a pitch count of 75 the entire season, Crosby still managed to compile a 10-4 record with a 2.41 ERA in 24 starts. Working 105 innings, Crosby gave up 70 hits, allowed 36 runs (28 earned), just three home runs, walked 48 and struck out 117. Crosby also held opponents to a .195 average.

Crosby showed just how efficient and effective he could be with his pitch count, the same pitch count Tigers rookie righthander Rick Procello had last season. Crosby pitched five innings or more 13 times. His longest outing was six innings (twice), giving up one hit and one run in one and two hits and no runs in the other.

A Blessing In Disguise

He opened the season with a stellar performance against the South Bend Silver Hawks going 5 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and two runs. He struck out a season and career-high nine. Named to the MWL's all-star game as well as its postseason all-star team, Crosby had three starts when he reached his pitch count without giving up a hit.

"I'm very pleased with my progress this season," said Crosby, who turned 21 on September 17. This is only his second pro season, having made three starts in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League at the end of the 2008 season.

"Before surgery, I don't know how I even threw strikes. I was wild," Crosby admitted. "Now I feel stronger and it has been easier to locate my stuff, but a lot of it comes with maturity and feeling out my own mechanics. The 2008 season (not pitching) was hard to deal with, but I look at it as a blessing in disguise.

"Before the surgery I was young and didn't know how to pitch. Taking the entire season off taught me how to deal with stuff (on and off the field)."

The Tigers selected Crosby in the fifth round of the 2007 draft after he put together a 6-2 record with an ERA of 0.88 at Kaneland High in Maple Park, Ill., his senior year. In 64 innings on the mound, Crosby registered 92 strikeouts.

Producing velocity is no problem for Crosby, who takes advantage of his 6-foot-5 height, creating a different arm angle for hitters. It is clearly his strength.

"Using my fastball up in the zone, down in the zone and on both sides of the plate has to be my strength along with mixing in the curveball and the changeup in," Crosby said. "What I need to work on most is pitching to hitters better. Recognize their swing and pitch to their weakness.

"If they're late on the fastball, keep throwing it. If they're on the fastball, throw something else. It's that part of my mental game that has improved a great deal this season."

His name was involved in possible trade talks with the Oakland Athletics (for outfielder Matt Holliday) and the Toronto Blue Jays (for righthander Roy Halladay), but the Tigers never discussed the possibility.

"Hearing my name in the rumors was pretty cool actually," Crosby said shortly after the trade deadline. "There was nothing I could do about it, but I took it as a compliment. Then when the Tigers didn't trade me, I took that as an another compliment."

Worth The Price

The Tigers received a huge amount of criticism from Major League Baseball for giving Crosby a $748,500 signing bonus, a figure well above MLB's pay slot for a fifth-round pick. And because of that, it took the commissioners' office more than two weeks to approve the contract.

"My arm is 100 percent healthy and I figure my pitch count will increase to 90 to 100 next season and I'm looking forward to facing the competition at high Class A or Double-A next season," Crosby said. "I'm excited to see what I can bring to the table."

Johnson is the one who keeps an eye on Crosby daily. A 1996 first-round draft pick of the Astros, Johnson pitched nine seasons in professional baseball with six different organizations, spending his longest stint with Detroit (2000-2003), where he made his lone major league appearance in 2000. This is his third season as a pitching coach in the Tigers' farm system.

"Under the guidelines within the Tigers' organization, we have taken precautions and made sure everything is OK before we turn him loose again," Johnson said. "From a personal experience, I've never had surgery on my pitching arm, so I can't begin to know what he's feeling and I take that into account when he's talking to me.

"He's going to be a power guy. He has to have confidence in his stuff and staying within himself, something he has done a great job with this season. Being young and still raw he just has to work on repeating his delivery."

Gary Bond covers the Whitecaps for the Grand Rapids Press