Crowe ready for challenge in outfield

Crowe better suited to compete in outfield

CLEVELAND -- In the field, at the plate and on the basepaths, Trevor Crowe is doing everything in his power to speed up his big-league timetable.

Alas, the timetable can rarely be forced, as Crowe and the Indians came to learn last fall.

Acknowledging an organizational hole at second base and trying to capitalize on Crowe's athleticism, the Indians subjected their former No. 1 pick to a position switch from the outfield to second shortly before the end of the Double-A Akron season.

Nevermind that Crowe hadn't played the infield since high school (and even then, by his own admission, his skills in the infield were "mediocre, at best"). This was a shot for a young player to accelerate his rise to the Majors. And all he had to do was field some ground balls and turn some double plays.

Simple, right?

Well, not really.

"Second base was definitely a struggle for me," the 23-year-old Crowe admitted. "I was uncomfortable, and the game sped up on me a bit. I had a very hard time trying to stay in the moment. You're going to struggle as a professional athlete, but the main thing is to stay in the moment, be prepared and do the best you can."

Crowe's best, in this particular instance, wasn't good enough. Not only did he boot a few balls in the field, but, no doubt preoccupied by the switch, he began to labor at the plate, as well.

Even he underestimated just how difficult it would be to make the transition in positions.

"The main thing the public lacks knowledge of about second base is there's so much that goes into it," Crowe said. "What pitch is the pitcher throwing? How is [the hitter's] speed? What are his tendencies? Guys at that level have been doing it so long that it's just second nature to them, whereas I'm thinking about picking the ground ball up and making an accurate throw to first base, while I've got seven things on my mind."

The experiment was as brief as it was unsuccessful. By the time Crowe reported to the Arizona Fall League, he was back in the outfield where he belongs. A month later, the Indians acquired Josh Barfield to solve their second-base riddle.

The absence of the defensive distraction allowed Crowe to flourish in Arizona. In 21 games, he hit .329 with 18 runs scored, 14 RBIs and three stolen bases. That came after he had hit .349 with six doubles, two triples, two steals and 12 runs in the Eastern League playoffs.

Such production is one reason the Indians are so enamored with Crowe, who was the 14th overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He is the only in-house property seen as a legitimate threat to bump All-Star Grady Sizemore from the leadoff spot someday, and his hustle on the basepaths helps atone for an organizational deficiency in the speed department.

"[Crowe's] definitely one of our brightest young prospects," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We think he has the ability and tools to project as a prototypical leadoff hitter -- a guy that runs the bases aggressively and well."

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But Crowe, who is set to report to his second big-league Spring Training camp later this month, is also running into what has become quite a logjam of Tribe outfielders. Sizemore is already locked into center for at least the next five years, and, this winter, the club signed David Dellucci to a three-year contract and Jason Michaels to a two-year deal.

And then there was the unexpected addition of Trot Nixon to the outfield mix on a one-year contract, which further complicates matters for the likes of Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Brian Barton, Ben Francisco and Crowe, all of whom are considered candidates to help out at the big-league level this season.

To his credit, though, Crowe doesn't view the recent signings as an insurmountable roadblock. Rather, he appreciates the challenge they present.

"Since the time I was 10 years old, I've always said that if you want to be a Major League baseball player, you have to beat out a Major Leaguer," Crowe said. "And that's the way it works in this organization. If you're not confident enough to beat out the other Minor League guys, you'll never fulfill your potential in the Major Leagues."

Crowe, who is expected to begin this season at Double-A, certainly isn't lacking in confidence. That much is clear, whether you listen to him in an off-field interview or watch the no-holds-barred way he attacks the game.

"If you're on the other team, this guy plays with an edge, and you probably don't like him very much," Shapiro said. "But if he's on your team, you love him."

Other teams love him, too, which is why the Red Sox were interested in obtaining Crowe, Fausto Carmona and Adam Miller this winter, in exchange for Manny Ramirez. The Indians politely declined.

"I did hear that [rumor] through my agent," said Crowe, who otherwise keeps his nose out of the Hot Stove news. "But like I tell him, let me go work out every day. If I get traded, I'll deal with that when it happens."

The Indians don't appear to be itching to part ways with Crowe. While he might profile as more of a center fielder, the production they get out of Sizemore from that position makes the thought of Crowe occupying a corner spot more palatable.

But one position you'll no longer find Crowe is second base, much to his own relief.

"Knowing I'm solely going to be an outfielder takes a lot of stress out of my preparation," he said. "I know how to be successful in the outfield, I know how to be successful on the basepaths and I know how to be successful at the plate. For me, it's just about refining my routine and doing what I do every day."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.