Crow hopes to follow Scherzer's lead

Crow hopes to follow Scherzer's lead

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Aaron Crow can vouch for the fact that those Max Scherzer watch parties have been extremely popular on the University of Missouri campus in recent weeks.

Since Scherzer, the former Missouri right-hander, burst into prominence as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation, Crow and his Missouri teammates have considered Scherzer's appearances to be must-see television.

"Every time he pitches, we go somewhere and watch him," Crow said.

If the talent evaluations hold true regarding the upcoming 2008 First-Year Player Draft, the next wave of Missouri players may have some Crow watch parties to attend in the not-so-distant future.

Crow, the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, has been prominently mentioned all spring as a potential high first-round pick. Scherzer went No. 11 overall to the Diamondbacks in 2006, and many of the mock drafts suggest Crow could go higher than that.

Performing in a league that delivered six teams to the NCAA Tournament, Crow finished 12-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. Crow went into the NCAA Tournament with 117 strikeouts versus just 33 walks, which provides a reference point for an electric three-pitch repertoire.

But there's more, much more.

"One of the things that makes Aaron special is that he can locate his other pitches in addition to the fastball, which has been consistently 93 to 96 [mph] all spring," Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson said. "If you have a guy with a mid-90s fastball and you don't know if that's coming in a fastball count, it's very difficult for the hitter. He has been able to throw the offspeed pitches in fastball counts."

Crow, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, falls into the late-bloomer category. He wasn't drafted out of Washburn Rural High School in Wakarusa, Kan. But after incremental progress in the Missouri program and a true coming-out party last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he posted an 0.67 ERA, Crow has zoomed past scores of pitchers who were considered better prospects three years ago.

This year, the scouts have been on hand at Missouri games since the chilly days of late February and early March. Crow was somewhat shaky in his first two starts, but then hit a groove that left Missouri players and coaches shaking their heads in amazement.

At one point this season, Crow pitched 42 2/3 scoreless innings.

"I'd say the fastball is my best pitch, but the slider isn't far behind," Crow said. "And my changeup is getting a lot better every time I pitch. It is improving all the time."

Crow grew up in the Topeka, Kan., area, which is just an hour drive from Kansas City. The Royals will have the No. 3 overall pick and Crow knows there have been projections indicating that he's in the Top 10 mix. Whether he lands close to home or not, Crow figures to have a smile on his face come Draft Day.

"I've been a Royals fan my whole life," Crow said. "That would definitely be a fun experience. But whoever drafts me, I'm confident it'll be a good fit."

After thriving in the Cape Cod League, where he was named the top pro prospect, Crow has turned in a body of work this season which is punctuated by his penchant for reaching a different gear when runners are in scoring position.

"In his first two starts, you could tell he was overthrowing and trying to live up to the hype and the expectations," Jamieson said. "Then he backed off and became more of a pitcher who worried more about location.

"When he tries to create velocity, the ball flattens out. But when he just tries to pitch and locate, he has great movement."

Besides using his three years at Missouri to develop into a pitcher who is now considered a prize prospect for some Major League club, Crow has moved close to a degree as a banking and finance major.

"It has been three of the best years of my life here in college," Crow said. "From a baseball standpoint, I've gotten a lot stronger and a lot better. And hopefully, I'll be able to use that degree somewhere down the line."

Scherzer needed just over one year of Minor League baseball before joining the Diamondbacks in late April. The way Scherzer prepared himself at Missouri as a junior in 2006 made an impression on Crow, who was just a freshman.

"He was great to learn from," Crow said. "He taught me a lot of stuff about pitching, and it was great to have him at Missouri as someone to look up to."

Now, the young pitchers at Missouri will have another ex-Tiger to look up to as Crow gets ready for Draft Day.

"Work ethic and intangibles have to be a big part of it when you are talking about drafting a guy you hope will be part of your organization for a long period of time," Jamieson said. "Max had it and Aaron has it as well. Work ethic and intangibles have helped make Aaron what he is."

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