To make room for Danny Duffy on the Double A Northwest Arkansas Naturals roster, 2009 first round pick Aaron Crow was demoted to High A Wilmington. Duffy, you’ll remember, took a hiatus before the season began due to personal issues, but posted a 2.38 ERA in two rookie league tune up starts and a start for Wilmington.
Crow has struggled all season for the Naturals, putting up a 5.66 ERA in 22 starts and producing a weak 90/59 K/BB ratio over 199.1 innings.
The Royals have a unique luxury in that of their high profile prospects, Crow is the only one who’s had many roadblocks in 2010. With the performances of Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Edgar Osuna, Duffy, Chris Dwyer, Louis Coleman and more in the minor league pitching ranks, the Royals can afford to give Crow a chance to work things out at a lower level of competition – for now.
Not to be overlooked is Crow’s career path so far. In 2008, the Washington Nationals selected him ninth overall, but Crow did not sign with them, instead opting to play for Fort Worth in the American Association in hopes of receiving a greater offer in 2009. Instead, his draft stock dropped a bit and he went 12th to the Royals. Crow’s numbers in the Independent League weren’t bad (17/5 K/BB ratio 1.00 ERA over 18 innings), but concern over the level of competition shied teams away.
Now, in his first full year in the minor leagues, he’s struggling. Not unlike a pitcher with a similar arc to his career. Luke Hochevar passed up an offer from the Dodgers after being selected 40th overall in 2005, but he re-entered the draft and became Kansas City’s first number one overall pick in 2006. Hochevar pitched well for Burlington in four starts in 2006, but in 2007, his first full year in the minors, he failed to set the world on fire. For Wichita in Double A, Hochevar produced a 4.69 ERA, but he did strike out a batter an inning and had a 3.6-1 K/BB ratio. In Triple A, he struggled, walking more batters, striking out less and finished with a 5.12 ERA there.
To his credit, Hochevar improved his Triple A numbers with stints in Omaha in both 2008 and 2009 and has shown glimpses of dominance here and there at the major league level. He still has strides to go before he can be considered anything more than a #3 starter in the making.
Crow may follow a similar path. Perhaps he gets his control in line at Wilmington and returns to Northwest Arkansas after a couple of starts in High A. Or he might figure it out and come on strong in 2011, putting him in line for a September ’11 debut or a shot at the major league roster in 2012. Or he might never learn to command his pitches enough to get professional hitters out consistently and could turn out to be the black sheep of the Royals prospects. In a year where Kansas City is gaining accolades for its developing players and getting mentions as the best farm system in the land, Crow’s problems feel out of place.
And I don’t want to withhold congratulations from Danny Duffy, who’s climbed some peronsal mountains this year to get back into baseball. He is a big part of the Royals “Process” (forgive me), despite being overshadowed by Mike Montgomery and John Lamb this year. It’s great to have him back in the fold and showing strong progress along with the others.