Crow ready to take on next challenge

Crow ready to take on next challenge

Crow ready to take on next challenge
KANSAS CITY -- A year ago, Aaron Crow had transformed from prized prospect to perplexing puzzle.

A No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Crow signed too late to play anything except fall ball. Even so, in Spring Training 2010, he almost pitched his way onto Kansas City's Major League roster. Yet, taking a cautious approach, the Royals dispatched him to Double-A. But he was so mediocre for Northwest Arkansas (7-7, 5.66 ERA in 22 starts), he was demoted to Class A, where he wasn't any better for Wilmington (2-3, 5.93 ERA in seven starts).

Then came a big change in his professional life. Last March, the Royals decided to try Crow as a relief pitcher. He made the club, and darned if he wasn't so good that he made the American League All-Star team as a rookie. Now comes the possibility of another big change -- when the Royals' camp opens on Feb. 21 at Surprise, Ariz., Crow will get a shot at the starting rotation, joining Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and the gang.

"I admire a guy that can struggle in Double-A and A-ball and come back in Spring Training and dominate so much that he makes the team," Chen said. "He not only makes the team, he pitches so well that he's our All-Star player. ... There's no reason for me to think that if he wants to be a starter, he cannot be successful."

Crow, 25, had great success as a starter at the University of Missouri, and starting was seen as his place in pro ball. But he prospered as a late-inning reliever last season for the Royals, particularly in the first half. He began with 13 straight scoreless appearances over 15 1/3 innings, retiring the first batter each time. His ERA was 0.76 in his first 20 games and stood at 2.08 in 36 outings at the All-Star break.

"It's fun in the bullpen, but I think it'd be fun being a starting pitcher every five days, too," Crow said. "I'm not going to complain, no matter what."

Manager Ned Yost, at last week's Winter Meetings, left no doubt that Crow would get a good shot at starting.

"Our mindset on that was if it didn't work out, he could always go back to the bullpen, where he had some success last year as a rookie," Yost said.

General manager Dayton Moore acknowledged that the free-agent signing of former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to be a setup man for Royals closer Joakim Soria made it easier for a potential job shift by Crow.

"Between Soria, Broxton and Crow, we've got three potential All-Stars on this pitching staff, and potentially all three in the bullpen," Moore said. "But we're going to give Aaron an opportunity to start."

In the second half of last season, Crow was less effective, with a 4.34 ERA in fewer games (21).

"The first half was great, and the second half the transition to being a reliever was a little different than I thought it would be," Crow said. "I was throwing less [in games] but throwing more times throughout the week; instead of throwing once every five days, throwing two, three, four, maybe five times a week. At least getting up. I really didn't expect the wear that it was going to have on my arm.

"Near the end of the season, I figured out it was only going to take eight or 10 pitches to get loose, as opposed to earlier in the year when I was throwing like 15, 20, 25 pitches in the bullpen, and that's not necessary. So I just cut back on that. It just kind of wore me down, throwing day-in and day-out in the bullpen."

There were no physical problems that caused Yost to use Crow less often in the second half.

"Nothing wrong with the arm. I think the main reason was my performance wasn't as good as it needed to be, so other guys were getting chances ahead of me," Crow said.

That included Greg Holland, also a right-hander, who finished with a 1.80 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 60 innings.

"Consistency is the key," Crow said. "I think Holland is the only one that threw consistently throughout the whole year. He was awesome day-in and day-out, so hopefully everybody else can take a look at that and build off his performance. If we can all do a more consistent job like he did, the bullpen is going to be a whole lot better next year than it was this year."

And the bullpen was pretty good, despite a preponderance of rookies, finishing eighth in the American League with a 3.75 ERA and tied for third with 26 victories. All in all, though, it was largely a learning experience.

"It was weird out there, like it seemed every day somebody was in a new position they'd never been in before," Crow said. "Everybody was asking Soria questions every day, just trying to figure what we should do in different situations or how we should approach different hitters.

"So, hopefully, next year it's going to be nice. Everybody's at least got a year under their belt, and [Blake] Wood's going to have two. We've still got Soria to lead us, so it should be a nice experience down there."

Crow was asked if he had any strong feelings about his 2012 role.

"No, it's up to Dayton and Ned to make those decisions, so I'll just do whatever I can, just try to go out every day and perform as best I can and let them decide if they think it's better for the team for me to be a starter or a reliever," he said. "So I'll just leave it in their hands. I'll just work as hard as I can and put myself in a position where I can force them to make a tough decision."

So here's an interesting scenario: Crow could be an All-Star reliever one year and an All-Star starter the next. And, after all, the 2012 game is in Kansas City.

"That would be awesome," he said. "There's a long way to go before I can start thinking about that, but that would be a lot of fun."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.