Right-hander Cody Allen was drafted in 2011, travelled through four different minor league stops in that same year, and half way through the 2012 season he was called up to the big leagues. He hasn’t looked back since and has become one of the Indians primary weapons out of the bullpen.
Left-hander Kyle Crockett could very well be on the same path.
Crockett, 22, was selected in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft as a draft-eligible junior out of the University of Virginia. In his three-year career at Virginia he made all but three of his 88 appearances out of the bullpen and proved to be a dominant college reliever going 12-3 with 12 saves, 1.98 ERA, 1.7 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9.
College stats often don’t translate very well to professional baseball, but so far that dominance Crockett displayed in college has carried over into the Indians minor league system. He travelled through three minor league stops with the Indians last season at short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley (8 games), Low-A Lake County (4 games) and finished at Double-A Akron (9 games), and in those 21 combined appearances went 1-0 with a 0.36 ERA, 1.8 BB/9 and 11.7 K/9.
As an advanced college pitcher, other than a few tweaks and adjustments, not much seasoning has been required of Crockett in order for him to be deemed ready for a call to the major leagues. What he needed to do was perform, and to date he has done that.
"It has been an awesome experience," Crockett said. "I am traveling all over the US and seeing a lot of different places I have never been. So it has definitely been fun. I expected (pro ball) to be a little worse than it was. I thought it was going to be a little less quality of life than I was used to in college, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. All of the facilities are great and the coaches are great. It was very welcoming."
Crockett has settled in so well with the Indians that he could be in line for a major league opportunity at some point this season if a need arises. Those chances took a little bit of a hit when the Indians traded for Josh Outman this offseason and also made a depth pickup with Colt Hynes, but if he continues to show his dominant stuff and performs early this coming season, he no doubt will be in the mix at some point later in the year.
What Crockett brings to the table is a low 90s four-seam fastball that has good movement and a plus slider that is really tough on lefties. He throws a lot of strikes, creates some deception, commands the zone well and really brings an advanced approach to pitching. All of that made him a fast-mover candidate coming in and at the doorstep of a big opportunity potentially awaiting him at some point in 2014.
"He is an advanced strike thrower and he should be a fast mover," an AL scout said. "I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a major league bullpen within the year. He has a good fastball-slider combo and also a changeup to get right-handed hitters out. He’s a good one."
Even after the success he had in 2013 the Indians introduced a slight change to the setup in Crockett’s delivery during Instructional League in the fall. Since he can remember he always pitched from the right side of the rubber, but the Indians moved him all the way over to the left side during their fall workouts in order to make him even tougher than he already is on lefties.
Like with anything new it is taking Crockett some time to get used to it, and he struggled in the early going during Instructional League games, but he performed well the rest of the way and is continuing to work on it this offseason.
"I have been working on the opposite side of the rubber and I am working on the left side now, so I am a little more effective against lefties especially with my arm slot," Crockett said.
It may seem like a small change, but it is one that can take some time for a pitcher to get used to. It not only can feel uncomfortable to pitch from a different starting point on the rubber, but he also has to adjust his line of sight and get used to a different release point with the ball. When Crockett pitched from the right side of the rubber, his arm was on the plate when he let go of the ball and his eyes were centered down the middle, but now his arm is in the left-handed batters box.
"It is a little bit of a mental and physical adjustment, "Crockett said. "I had done it since high school and college so I had always been throwing from the right side. I think my release point is a big thing as you have to really get out there – especially with your slider and everything like that. You have to let it get out front and not back up on you. It is really just a mental thing. You have to be confident you will get it there and confident you can throw it for strikes."
The fastball-slider combination is Crockett’s bread and butter. While he is pretty polished and has two very good offerings, he could use a third pitch to help him combat both lefties and righties.
"I think I am going to try to develop a third pitch, but I am not sure as they haven’t really told me anything they want me to work on right now," Crockett said. "I do want to develop a third pitch. I mean, I do have a curveball and changeup but I did not use them as much as my slider and fastball. Maybe [I can add] a cutter or something like that to be more effective against lefties."
Crockett is already getting ready for the upcoming season and in a few weeks will be in town for the Indians annual Winter Development Program. He may also get a major league invite to major league spring training where he would get an opportunity to make a good first impression on the major league staff before being shuttled off to Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus to start the season.
Either way, with spring training only weeks away, Crockett’s time to shine will come very soon in the Arizona sun and potentially later in the year in Cleveland.