The Tigers system right now can be summed up thusly: Jacob Turner, Nick Castellanos, and everyone else. A couple of years ago, though, lefthander Casey Crosby was also thought of very highly, coming off a season where he had a 2.41 ERA and 2.80 FIP in the Midwest League as a 20-year-old. Then his elbow acted up in 2010 and kept him out for basically the entire season, and when he returned in 2011, he was immediately skipped up to Double-A. He continued to flash electric stuff there, but walked 77 batters in 131 2/3 innings en route to a mediocre 4.10 ERA and 4.32 FIP at age 22.
So, is this guy a lost cause who’s never going to throw enough strikes to be more than the new Erick Threets, or can he still meet his upside?
Watching Crosby pitch, it’s easy to see how he still has believers in spite of his command struggles. His fastball climbed as high as 97 mph in short stints in the Arizona Fall League, and he’s comfortably in the low 90′s as a starter. He shows a classic overhand curveball with 12-to-6 break, and his changeup comes in with very good arm speed and screwball action.
Mechanically, Crosby has solid body control despite his long limbs and is able to repeat his motion quite well. There’s some effort in his arm action, but it’s a fairly sound delivery on the whole, featuring an overhand arm slot. If one didn’t know Crosby’s injury history, he probably wouldn’t be considered much of an injury risk thanks to his big, thick frame and solid mechanics.
Most overhand pitchers struggle to get groundouts, but Crosby excels in this area, with a 52.6% groundball rate in 2011. His delivery gives him great plane to the plate, and he takes advantage of it, and the sinking action on his offspeed offerings also makes him tough to lift.
So, the mechanics and stuff are there, and the groundball and strikeout ability is there, leaving just the control as the biggest impediment to success (other than the ever-present injury potential). It’s frustrating to see Crosby have such trouble locating his fastball when it seems like his delivery should allow him to spot the pitch well.
With a pitcher like this who has trouble “harnessing his stuff,” many may call for a move to the bullpen. Crosby doesn’t really make a ton of sense there, though–he actually has a reverse platoon split thanks to his high arm slot and quality offspeed stuff, so he’s best when stretched out and certainly shouldn’t be shoehorned into a lefty specialist sort of role.
Rather, I think Crosby is a project worth investing some years of development time into. If he can cut his walk rate to around 4 BB/9 in the majors, he can be quite successful, and again, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why he can’t pull that off. In a lot of ways, he’s a bigger version of Gio Gonzalez, a lefty with similar stuff, a similar statistical profile, and even a similar release point. Gonzalez didn’t start to put things together in the majors until he was 25, and he had to spend four years in the upper minors, but he obviously paid dividends. Crosby will likely continue to have developmental hiccups, but if he can stay healthy, there’s a good chance he can eventually prove useful in a major league rotation if he’s properly developed.
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