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Rotation candidate profile: Casey Crosby

Since the Tigers chose Casey Crosby out of high school with the fifth pick in the 2007 amateur draft and paid him a $750,000 signing bonus to keep him out of the University of Illinois, Crosby’s professional career has been a mixture of success and injuries. Crosby went to the instructional league after signing, and tore a ligament that required Tommy John surgery. That finished him for the remainder of the 2007 season and kept him out almost the full 2008 season as well.

Crosby came back to Low--A West Michigan in 2009 and the results were very promising. He went 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 10.1 batters per nine innings and posting a WHIP of 1.12. Baseball America ranked him No. 47 on their list of top 100 prospects, and No. 2 in the Tiger organization prior to the 2010 season. He could have been even higher but for his surgery.

Crosby is a 23-year-old, 6-foot-5, 200-pound efty with a fastball that sits in the mid to low 90s that he can dial up to the high 90s. He also features a curve ball, slider and change that have major league potential. In high school, Crosby was All-Area, All-Region, All-Conference, and All-State in 2007, and was named the Gatorade Illinois player of the year.

Just as things were looking up for Crosby, he was again plagued by injuries in 2010. Swelling in his elbow limited him to just 12.1 innings of work in the Gulf Coast League. Orthopaedic specialist Dr. James Andrews said that Crosby had no structural damage, but Crosby was shut down for the season. Even when healthy, Crosby has had nagging injuries. He finished the 2009 campaign with a blister, and had shoulder issues that sidelined him temporarily in 2011.

Crosby rebounded in 2011, skipping past Advanced-A Lakeland and going right to Double-A Erie, keeping him right on track for his age as a prospect, despite missing almost two full seasons with injuries. He went 9-7 at Erie with an ERA of 4.10 in a hitter’s league, struck out 8.3 per nine innings, but walked 5.3 per nine, registering a WHIP of 1.51. The good news is that Crosby was able to throw 131 innings, albeit with some concerns about the high BB rate.

The Tigers sent Crosby to the Arizona fall league, where he pitched 11 games in relief, going 2- 0 with a 1.32 ERA. His overall performance gave the club enough optimism to add him to the 40-man roster last November, to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The roster spot comes with an automatic invitation to spring training, where he will compete for the fifth and final spot in the Tigers’ 2012 rotation.

Casey has battled through his injuries to get this far, and he still has his blazing fast ball and scouts still wonder "what if." Between West Michigan in 2009 and Erie in 2011, he has a 19-11 record and racked up 238 strikeouts 236 innings. He is able to induce ground balls with regularity He has been an all-star team both seasons he has been healthy.

The Tigers have three seasons where they can option Crosby to the minors without putting him through waivers. His first challenge is to stay healthy. Next, he has to get back the control that he showed in the Midwest league in 2009 and demonstrated again in the AFL. He has to be considered a dark horse to begin the season in the Tigers' rotation. Of the five players vying for the last spot who are on the roster, Crosby is the only one that has no major league experience at all. If he can stay healthy and regain his form, there is a good chance that he’ll be making his major league debut sooner rather than later, in one role or another.