Crosby rides Whitecaps wave

By on April 30, 2009

Knights grad adjusting to pro baseball grind for Tigers’ affiliate
by Mike Slodki

If you happen to visit Fifth Third Ballpark just north of Grand Rapids, Mich., and see a 6-foot-5 blonde-haired lefthander who looks vaguely familiar, signing autographs for young fans on the concourse during a rain delay, you’re not going crazy.

For you’ve just located what Casey Crosby is up to these days.

Now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery 17 months ago, the 2007 two-sport athlete from Kaneland High School is the No. 1 starting pitcher for the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps in the Midwest League.

Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft, Crosby is 2-0 with a 2.08 earned run average after four starts, picking up his second win of the season on Sunday afternoon vs. the visiting Lansing Lugnuts.

“My first start here, my adrenalin was pumping, and the last few starts, I’ve been more relaxed,” Crosby said. “I felt comfortable in my first start because my whole family was here and it was better weather. I love pitching here; the fans back you up really well.”

The first baseball player to be drafted out of Kaneland, Crosby is now one of the many young athletes with a shot at eventually throwing to major league hitters. So far, he’s acclimating well in his current situation.

To Whitecaps play-by-play man Steve Lloyd-Jones, Crosby’s laundry list of gifts brought to the Tigers system are obvious from a broadcaster’s point of view.

“It’s obvious that it’s an overpowering arm. His velocity’s just tremendous. He hits the low-to-mid-90s on his fastball with regularity and has shown a good offspeed pitch,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Crosby, with 22 Ks, joins personnel like Mauricio Robles and Matt Hoffman, adding to a rotation capable of big things. The Whitecaps are 13-4 thus far.

“The Tigers’ whole philosophy is to draft power arms. You see it throughout their system. Now we’re on the lower end of that, but they’ve blown away most lineups,” Lloyd-Jones said.

“We’re doing real well. We’re hitting the ball. It’s just cool to see how good this team is and how much talent the organization has. It’s nice going out there knowing that your hitters will come up with a couple of runs.”

* * * * *
During Sunday’s game one of a rain makeup doubleheader, Crosby walks to the mound and gets ready for work. After allowing a single to Lansing’s leadoff man Kenny Wilson, he promptly picks him off. He gets Tyler Pastornicky to fly out to left, but walks Brian Van Kirk. Crosby then treats Yohermyn Chavez like he did any number of Western Sun Conference hitters during his 6-2, 0.88 ERA campaign in 2007 by striking him out to end the top of the first.

* * * * *
“After our games we’ve got to go right on the road. We left Fort Wayne last night and got back to Grand Rapids at 2 in the morning. You have good with bad.

There’s a lot of fun stuff about minor league baseball. I like traveling around, going to the different places, and I like the team chemistry,” said Crosby, who rooms with reliever Erik Crichton while on the road.

In the top of the second, Crosby allows a leadoff single to Mark Sobolewski, but induces Mike McDade to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

* * * * *
“Obviously, I want to stay healthy. That’s the main one. Also, I want to keep the walks down and throw less pitches and throw into the sixth or seventh inning (Crosby is on a 75-pitch count) and just go from there.”

* * * * *
An inning later, the southpaw notches his second strikeout and fans A.J. Jimenez during his first 1-2-3 inning.

* * * * *
“Any pitcher that spends time away or on the DL, it’s a time to look at your whole surroundings. Crosby did a good job of, when he wasn’t throwing, of learning still and not just shutting down. That’s one thing to carry on once you start throwing again. He’s a great listener, great competitor and he has a great arm,” pitching coach Mark Johnson said.

* * * * *
“During the game, my catcher and I talk about what the hitters did last time against me. He’ll come to settle me down if I’m not throwing a lot of strikes,” Crosby said.

* * * * *
The fourth inning proves Crosby’s roughest yet. Pastornicky walks and Crosby commits a throwing error while attempting a pickoff. The next two batters ground out, but Crosby allows a single to Sobolewski before causing McDade to fly out to right field.

* * * * *
“I think they knew that we would have a high strikeout total because we have great arms. They just want us to get the walks down,” Crosby said.

* * * * *
To cap his winning outing, Crosby retires the side by fanning Bryan Kervin. The former Knight’s day ends with five innings, one unearned run, two walks and three strikeouts.

* * * * *
His win on Sunday served as a microcosm of his pro baseball career, facing early setbacks head on and powering out of them. Lloyd-Jones has seen many arms like Crosby’s show their stuff at the West Michigan stop.

“The one guy that immediately jumps to my mind is Joel Zumaya. At this level, he was a flamethrower. I remember watching in May of ’03, he faced the Beloit Snappers with Prince Fielder, and he racked up 14 strikeouts. Casey’s been one of the more pure strikeout pitchers we’ve seen,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Crosby’s odyssey to the big leagues could have a long way to go. For now, his journey took him to a concourse signing baseballs and hurling fastballs on a Sunday in western Michigan.

Photos by Mike and Erika Slodki