Crosby is cream of AL rookie crop

A's shortstop Bobby Crosby likely will be Oakland's fifth Rookie of the Year since 1986.

Originally Published: October 1, 2004
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider

Back in spring training, most people figured the American League Rookie of the Year award would come down to two players: 1) Bobby Crosby, who had a mandate to replace Miguel Tejada at shortstop in Oakland; and 2) Joe Mauer, who seemed poised and mature enough, even at age 21, to replace A.J. Pierzynski and handle a full season behind the plate for the Minnesota Twins.

Mauer's candidacy pretty much went kaput in the second game of the season, when he injured his left knee chasing a foul pop back to the screen. Mauer had surgery, returned for six weeks in the middle of the season, then re-injured the knee in July and shut it down after only 107 at-bats.

Lew Ford and Justin Morneau, two other products of the Minnesota farm system, did some impressive things offensively. But they both entered this season with too much service time to qualify as rookies.

Which brings us to Crosby, the proverbial mixed bag statistically. On the down side, he's hitting .243 with a .325 on-base percentage and 136 strikeouts. In his favor, you have to consider the 22 homers, 34 doubles, and third-place ranking among American League shortstops in the all-important category of "range factor.''

Other top AL rookies
Zack Greinke, Kansas City (8-10, 3.92 ERA, 97 strikeouts, 25 walks): Greinke throws strikes and isn't afraid to pitch inside. He's 20 years old, and if he could handle the stress of pitching for a team this horrendous, there's no telling how good he might be. "He's got the highest ceiling of any of these guys,'' says an American League coach. "We saw him hit 94-95 with his fastball and throw some offspeed stuff up there at 62. That's like Pedro in his prime.''
Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore (12-7, 4.67 ERA): Cabrera hasn't pitched as well as his record indicates. He has 74 strikeouts and 86 walks, which is downright awful, and he went 1-2 with an 11.51 ERA in August after a fast start. But he showed enough to make Baltimore management believe he can hold down a spot at the back end of the rotation in 2005. At 6-foot-7, with a fastball that routinely hits 93, he can be dominant at times.
Shingo Takatsu, Chicago White Sox (6-4, 18 saves, 2.39 ERA): He's 35 years old, pitched 13 seasons in Japan and saved 260 games for the Yakult Swallows, so it's a stretch to call him a rookie. But he's done some nice things for manager Ozzie Guillen, taking over the closer's job after Billy Koch and Damaso Marte both failed at the job. White Sox fans, who haven't had much to cheer this year, have fallen hard for Shingo, who's adept at getting hitters out with slop. "I've seen a lot of good players on this ballclub, and I've never seen anyone get a standing 'O' coming out of the bullpen,'' Guillen said earlier this season.
Jason Frasor, Toronto (4-6, 17 saves, 4.08 ERA): Frasor, acquired from the Dodgers in March for Jayson Werth, pitched well for four months, then imploded in August and September as his appearance total mounted. But the Blue Jays still got a lot more value out of him and rookie Vinnie Chulk than the triumvirate of Justin Speier, Kerry Ligtenberg and Terry Adams.
Kevin Gregg, Anaheim, and Justin Duchscherer, Oakland: They've both logged some serious long and middle relief grunt work for teams that have kept their bullpens busy. Gregg's splitter was nasty some days and difficult to command on others – like the day he tied a record with four wild pitches in an inning against Seattle.
There also are the intangibles. Crosby fought through slumps, fatigue and nagging injuries – and showed admirable restraint when teammate Mark Redman showed him up after making an error to lose a game. He handled a demanding defensive position for a pennant contender, and provided some huge late-inning hits in September, when the A's needed it most. His walk-off homer in a 3-2 victory over Seattle on Thursday might have saved Oakland's season.

In a down year for AL rookies, Crosby was a walking testament to the old Woody Allen line: Eighty percent of success is showing up. He beats out several starting pitchers and relievers who've made contributions to their teams, and it's not particularly close.

"I've always felt this award should be for a position player,'' said White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. "It's tough to take it out there every day at this level, with all the adjustments you have to make over 162 games. Even if you have success, the scouts are bearing down on you. The league will make certain adjustments to you, and you have to adjust off that. Even for a starting pitcher, who goes out there 34 or 35 times a year, I don't believe it's as difficult a road.''

The AL rookie contingent isn't nearly as strong as last season, when Kansas City's Angel Berroa, Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli, the Yankees' Hideki Matsui and Cleveland's Jody Gerut all merited consideration for the award. But that shouldn't detract from Crosby's accomplishment. When he wins the award, he'll join Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Walt Weiss and Ben Grieve as Oakland's fifth Rookie of the Year since 1986.

Around the Game

  • Josh Byrnes, Theo Epstein's top assistant in Boston, could be a leading candidate to replace Omar Minaya as general manager when the Expos move to Washington, D.C. Byrnes is widely regarded as one of baseball's smarter, more creative young executives. He also attended the same school (St. Albans) that produced Jeff Zients, a central figure in the Fred Malek-led ownership group that's trying to buy the Washington franchise. Pat Gillick, now a consultant in Seattle, is also being mentioned as a possible successor to Minaya, who left the Expos to run the Mets this week.

  • There's a weird rumor making the rounds in Arizona, where interim manager Al Pedrique isn't likely to return in 2005. How about Will Clark, former Giant and Cardinal first baseman and long-time client of new Arizona CEO Jeff Moorad, managing the Diamondbacks next season? Clark has done some work as a spring training instructor with St. Louis, but generally kept a low profile since his retirement in 2000. "I don't think Will has done anything except hunt for the last five years,'' said an agent.

  • Only in Baltimore could they have two general managers and one guy to run both the scouting and player development departments – but the Orioles might be headed in that direction. Rumor has it that they're looking at Grady Fuson, who's been squeezed out in Texas, to replace scouting director Tony DeMacio and farm director Doc Rodgers, both of whom have been dismissed from their positions.

    Jerry Crasnick is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. He can be reached via e-mail.

    Jerry Crasnick | email MLB Sr. Writer