Crick relishing chance to learn, grow in AFL
Giants' top prospect making up for time lost to first career injury
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Comparable in size and upbringing to the Giants' one-two punch at the top of the club's starting rotation, few could blame Kyle Crick if he developed a sense of entitlement.
Billed almost since Day 1 as the next great pitching sensation in San Francisco's farm system following the likes of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, Crick's massive upside shown throughout his first two full professional seasons has only magnified the hype surrounding the right-hander.
But instead of singing his own praises, Crick, who stands well above six feet and was drafted in the first round out of high school like Cain and Bumgarner, is about as shrewd and sensible as 20-year-olds in his shoes come. He knows where he needs to improve and he drives himself to do just that.
Ranked No. 1 on the Giants' Top 20 Prospects list, Crick has been playing alongside six other San Francisco prospects with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, working on the biggest chink in his armor, his command, while polishing his secondary pitches and building up his innings count against some of the best young players in baseball.
"Everybody here has great talent; I can't just show up and win," Crick said. "Everybody has all the tools in the world, but you have to have it up top, too, which is what I think I'm learning the most. I never really think about the pressure, because I know I'm doing all I can to get better."
Crick is coming off an injury-shortened 2013 regular season after posting a 2.51 ERA over 111 1/3 innings last year with Class A Augusta. Still, the right-hander put up gaudy numbers in 2013 with Class A Advanced San Jose while he was healthy, compiling a 1.57 ERA and 95 strikeouts in just 68 2/3 innings. An oblique strain, however, forced him to miss two months. The injury marked the first time Crick has gotten hurt playing baseball and caused the Giants to send him to Arizona so he could make up for lost time.
"I've actually never been injured in sports, so that was kind of an eye-opener," Crick said earlier this fall. "It's tough. I've never experienced anything like that where I couldn't help my team, but I think that taught me a lot. When I got back on the mound again, I really respected it a lot more. And now I get to pitch in October, which is big for me. To still be going when the big dogs are pitching in the playoffs, it kind of gives you a feel for how long the season really is."
Entering the Fall League's final week, Crick had appeared in six games (four starts), compiling a 3.55 ERA. That respectable ERA would be even lower if not for one bad outing when Crick labored in his first start, allowing four runs (three earned) on three hits over two innings. Since then, however, he has tossed 10 2/3 strong innings, surrendering just two runs. He owned 19 strikeouts.
Crick also was named to the East Division squad for the Fall Stars Game on Nov. 2.
"To be honest with you, I'm learning a lot, too, just from watching these guys work," Crick said. "These guys are the best in their organizations. Most of the time in Advanced A, when you throw them a 1-2 slider, they'll swing out of the zone. That doesn't happen here. They spit on it, so you really have to pound the zone."
That foreshadowing of the type of patient hitter Crick will eventually face in the Majors provides him with a golden opportunity to learn to attack batters better and limit the walks that have plagued him. In 187 career Minor League innings, Crick has issued 114 free passes, initially prompting the pitcher to consider mechanical adjustments before coming to a different realization.
"I think it's just mental," he said. "It's getting the ball and throwing it. It's the mentality that you have to be a bulldog out there and not be afraid to throw strikes. It's about trusting yourself. I like to get the ball and throw, but I do think things can get out of whack pretty quick. So when that happens, I'll step back off the mound and clean my cleats off to think for a little bit and take a little breather."
When Crick is calm and commanding his stuff, he's getting to the point where he feels comfortable throwing any of his pitches in any count. Earlier in his career, he said he used to be mostly fastball-slider, because his other two pitches were so inconsistent. Now, however, Crick is throwing a slow curveball early in counts to put in opponents' heads that he can toss it for a strike. A changeup, the fourth pitch in his arsenal, is improving by leaps and bounds as well, which is in turn making his mid- to high-90s fastball even more effective.
"The changeup has been big for me and I'm getting a lot more confidence in it," he said. "The more you throw it off the mound in a game, the better. You can throw it a million times in the bullpen, but you're not going to get confidence until it's working in a game for you and you can actually apply it."
If and when Crick does put it all together, Scorpions manager Russ Morman, the hitting coach for Triple-A Fresno, has no doubt the righty can follow in the footsteps of the electric Giants arms that came before him.
"He has been a breath of fresh air," Morman said. "He's a good one. He never stops competing and that's what will make him successful."
Giants hitters in the Fall League
Andrew Susac took a sizable step forward this year following a somewhat subpar first professional season at the plate in 2012. Ranked No. 15 on the Giants' Top 20 Prospects list, Susac displayed nice power in 84 games with Double-A Richmond, hitting 12 homers and 17 doubles for a .458 slugging percentage. He slugged just .380 and hit .244 at Class A Advanced San Jose last year. Projected to be a plus defender, the catcher threw out 40 percent of basestealers this year. In his first 40 at-bats in the AFL, Susac crushed the top-tier pitching, batting .325, which ranked 10th entering the Fall League's final week, along with a .491 on-base percentage.
Angel Villalona's story is well-documented. Once thought of as a can't-miss prospect, he faced murder charges in the Dominican Republic in 2009 before later being acquitted. He and the Giants then went into litigation until Villalona dropped the lawsuit when San Francisco took him off the inactive list. Now a 23-year-old and on the club's 40-man roster, Villalona hit a combined .231 with 22 homers in 125 games this year between San Jose and Richmond. The first baseman was 10-for-57 (.175) with 13 total bases through the Fall League's fifth week.
Jarrett Parker arrived in Arizona following a very productive campaign in Richmond, finishing with a .355 on-base percentage and 18 homers over 131 games. The outfielder did strike out a lot, however, punching out a whopping 161 times in 2013. He hit .300 in 17 games, with six RBIs and 20 total bases through the Fall League's first five weeks.
Giants pitchers in the Fall League
Adalberto Mejia made 16 starts for San Jose this season, compiling a 3.31 ERA over 87 innings while striking out 89. A 6-foot-3 native of the Dominican Republic, Mejia is ranked No. 19 on the Giants' top prospect list. The left-hander struggled early in the AFL, allowing 16 earned runs in 17 innings entering the league's final week of play.
Derek Law pitched at three levels in 2013, the highest Class A Advanced San Jose. The right-hander appeared in 46 combined games, all out of the bullpen, tossing 66 1/3 innings and finishing with a stellar 2.31 ERA. Law has continued his success in Arizona, working 11 1/3 frames in his first 10 appearances, all in relief. He entered the Fall League's sixth and final week with a league-leading ERA of a perfect 0.00, the only qualifying AFL pitcher to record a zero ERA. He also owned 14 strikeouts.
Cody Hall split time between San Jose and Richmond this year, working out of the bullpen 46 times and compiling an eye-popping 1.80 ERA. The right-hander struck out 75 batters and walked just 15. He logged eight AFL relief appearances through five weeks with a 2.25 ERA.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.