When the Kansas City Royals drafted Aaron Crow with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft, they did so with visions of the right-hander becoming the cornerstone of their starting rotation. After two years in the bullpen, however, it looks like Crow is settling in as a high-ceiling reliever instead, and that’s just fine according to all parties involved.
Just last spring, a pitching-starved Royals’ rotation forced manager Ned Yost to think long and hard about moving Crow up into the starter’s role. That switch failed to materialize, however, because the Royals found themselves even more desperate for bullpen arms after closer Joakim Soria suffered a torn elbow ligament March 18. Crow, an All-Star reliever as a rookie, returned to the the pen and tied for the team lead with 19 holds in 73 appearances.
This offseason, Crow geared his workouts towards becoming a starter in 2013, but quickly realized that wouldn’t happen. The team went on an offseason acquisition spree and retained Jeremy Guthrie through free-agency and acquired James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana in trades. Those moves give Yost plenty of options at starter, who says now there is “no need to move Aaron Crow out of the bullpen.”
Yost relies on Crow to be a stopper, capable of coming into any situation during a game and getting Kansas City out of jams. He fills a major role in the bullpen and Yost would find it difficult to move him out of it at this point. Crow is probably the Royals’ second-most-deserving arm to close, behind current finisher Greg Holland, which makes him the go-to setup man for the Royals this season and first in line in the event Holland needs a day off.
And for Crow, that sounds just fine:
“I’ve been a reliever that last two years and I’m going to be one again this year. So that’s really all that I’m focused on.
“We’ve got a log of good guys out there. If Greg (Holland) needs a day off, there are three or four guys who can step up; guys who are good enough to be closers on a log of teams.
“It’s better to be in the bullpen in the big leagues than to be a starter working on stuff in Triple-A.”
This doesn’t mean that the door is closed forever for Crow as a starter. The 26-year-old is still improving and honing his craft. From 2011 to 2012, young righty roughly maintained his strikeout-per-inning pace while cutting his walk rate from 4.5 to 3.1 per nine innings. His most significant improvement in 2012, however, was an improved sinking action on his fastball, which cut opposing lefties’ hitting rates to .188/.274/.282, down from .311/.381/.538 his rookie year.
That improvement made Crow a much more complete pitcher and continued growth like that could open the door to a starting job someday down the line. For now, he’s happy to continue sharpening his skills, developing consistency with his pitches and attacking hitters with more strikes down in the zone from the comforts of the bullpen.