No. 6: Casey Crosby, LHP
Editors Note: This is one of the relatively few rankings that I struggled with internally. There's no denying Crosby's pure talent, but is it really enough to be ranking #6 overall? Does he have that much potential, or is this more indicative of the fact that the Tigers have a pretty weak farm system?
Casey Crosby was drafted by the Tigers in the 5th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Kaneland HS in Maple Park, IL. The Tigers were able to get Crosby to break a strong commitment to the University of Illinois with a significant signing bonus, and Crosby immediately became one of the more heralded pitching prospects in the system. He signed very late in the 2007 season, so he wasn't able to make his professional debut right away. He experienced elbow pain during the Fall Instructional league of '07, and subsequently had Tommy John surgery. He was able to make it back for the very end of the 2008 season, where he pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings for the GCL (rookie ball) Tigers. He was assigned to Class A-West Michigan for the 2009 season, where he absolutely showed out, giving Tigers fans a glimpse of just how talented he is. During the 2009 season, he logged 104 2/3 innings across 24 starts, posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9. Excellent numbers to say the least, even if his walk numbers were a tick too high. Crosby was again bit by the injury bug during the 2010 season, and he was only able to throw 12 1/3 innings for the GCL Tigers. Basically, 2010 was another lost season. In 2011, he rebounded nicely from a health standpoint at Class Double A-Erie, throwing a career high 131 2/3 innings over 25 starts. His numbers were a bit shaky with a 4.10 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, and 5.3 BB/9; but he still showed his dynamic potential but striking out 8.3/9 and allowing less than a hit per inning. Finally healthy again, the Tigers assigned Crosby to Class Triple A-Toledo for the 2012 season, and it was during 2012 that we finally saw him in Detroit. He made 3 starts for the Tigers when Fister and Smyly were dealing with injuries, and while he was wholly ineffective, we still saw glimpses of his potential (albeit small glimpses). While 2012 wasn't an overwhelming season by any stretch for Crosby, I was encouraged because of several things: 1) He was healthy all year, 2) He logged a new career high in innings (138), 3) He managed to drop his BB/9 rate while at a higher level (5.3 to 4.7, which still isn't very good), 4) He still allowed less than a hit per inning, and 5) He still maintained a nice K/9 rate (8), and 6) While his WHIP still wasn't good (1.41), it was still a drop from the previous season. To put it simply: In my mind, Crosby is trending upwards, and 2012 should be viewed as a successful season for him, if for no other reason then he was healthy in back to back seasons for the first time in his professional career.
Crosby stands 6'5" and weighs in at 230lbs, possessing the "ideal" pitchers frame--and from a LHP, no less. He is very solidly built and well put together, and is supremely athletic on the mound. He offers a 4 pitch mix, with only 2 of them being above-average or better at this point. His fastball is truly something to behold when he lets it fly: It sits in the mid 90's consistently, and has touched 98 in the past. His physicality and overall durability of his body (when healthy) allows him to maintain this velocity late into games, which makes him even more special. The fastball also has nice movement, making it a truly dominating, swing and miss pitch. He can throw the fastball by hitters regardless of where he throws it, but it is especially lethal when he's able to locate it (not often, as of yet), which is as you might expect. He also offers one of the best breaking balls in the system, a curveball that, while lacking consistency, shows as a plus pitch. When he's able to be consistent enough in his delivery to command his breaking ball, he shows the ability to throw it both for strikes and as a swing and miss pitch down and out of the zone. He also throws a 2 seam fastball of sorts, and we saw this frequently in his starts with the Tigers. This fastball sits in the 89-91 range and has more movement than his 4 seamer, but Crosby has been quoted as saying that he felt more comfortable commanding the 2 seamer, which is why he threw it more often in Detroit rather than "letting it fly" with his 4 seamer. I know I was expecting to see him light up the scoreboard with high velocity readings when he got to Detroit, but I think it speaks to his intelligence that he knew to throttle back for the sake of command, as opposed to just trying to throw the ball past people (Andy Oliver says hello from Pittsburgh). He also offers a changeup, but it lags behind his other offerings at this point. I saw him in Toledo last season, and while I thought his change showed promise, he tipped it a few times by slowing down his arm noticeably in addition to the fact that it doesn't have as much velocity separation from his fastball as I'd like to see. I'd project it as a future useable pitch in the majors, but I don't think it'll ever get beyond fringe-average. As you are undoubtedly aware, Crosby's problem has been command/control, stemming from issues with his mechanics and delivery. He struggles to repeat his mechanics at times, which leads to a loss of command on all of his pitches, and sometimes makes him downright wild. These issues have led some scouts to believe that he should be moved to the bullpen, where his dominating fastball/curve combination could be lethal as a late innings lefty. Personally, I feel that he still offers promise as a starter, and it would be too soon for the Tigers to convert him to the bullpen. Maybe this time next year, but not right now.
Crosby offers the ceiling of a #2-3 starter for me. If he can remain healthy while refining his mechanics to improve his command, in addition to developing his changeup, he could be a legitimate big league starter. 6'5" lefties that throw in the mid-upper 90's don't grow on trees, and while I'm sure we're all sick of hearing that after the Andy Oliver debacle, Crosby is a significantly better pitcher than Oliver. For 1, Crosby actually has a breaking ball, but this is not a Crosby vs. Oliver comparison piece. I do see the fit of Crosby in the bullpen, where he would ideally become what Daniel Schlereth was supposed to be: A dominant lefty reliever with a dominating fastball and nasty curveball that would simply obliterate left handed hitters while still being good against righties. That's a backup plan for me still, as I'd like Crosby to remain in the starting rotation for at least another season. As of now, he would be the Tigers 7th starter, behind Drew Smyly. He should start 2013 in Toledo, pitching every fifth day, and will undoubtedly be the 1st or 2nd guy called up if the Tigers need a replacement starter. Obviously, Smyly would get the call first in a perfect world, but who knows how this will all shake out by the time a potential need for a spot start arises.