First-rounder Crow making up for lost time

First-rounder Crow making up for lost time

It's been a long time coming, but Aaron Crow can't begin to explain how excited he is to be on the mound again.

The process of beginning his professional career has been long and bumpy -- he did not come to terms with the team that drafted him in 2008, and did not sign with the club that selected him in 2009 until the last moment. It's been nearly a year and a half since Crow ended his college career and his competitive time on the mound has been limited to a handful of independent league innings this spring. Now, however, he's a Kansas City Royal, and is thrilled to put the past 18 months behind him and focus on the future.

"I remember the first couple of days I was down here thinking, 'This is awesome. I really missed this,'" Crow said from the Royals' instructional league facility in Surprise, Ariz. "It was a great experience, being out on the field again, practicing.

"Once the actual season starts next spring, getting into games that count, that should be even more exciting. I can't wait to get that stuff going again."

Before the Royals were ready to let Crow get that stuff going, they wanted to be certain that he was physically ready. Crow was asked to go through a series of assessments before being allowed to pitch in instructional league games. While Crow was excited to be doing anything with a team again, it was a slow couple of weeks full of shoulder exercises and workouts.

"From their perspective, they wanted to make sure I was 100 percent sound," Crow said. "I could say that had stayed in shape, but they wouldn't know for sure. It's probably for the best in the long run. I'm throwing now, that's all that matters and I'm ready to keep going."

The Royals' caution does come from experience. Kansas City selected Luke Hochevar with the top overall pick in the 2006 Draft a year after he was taken by the Dodgers but did not sign. The Royals were able to come to terms with Hochevar in August that summer and he was sent out to pitch.

As with Crow, Hochevar's only real mound time over the course of the previous year had come in independent ball as he was preparing to re-enter the Draft, and he was shut down fairly quickly with shoulder soreness. It's been a cautionary tale for the Royals, one they want to be sure not to repeat with their first-round pick in 2009.

"That's exactly what we've done, taken what we've done with one and looked at it," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting/player development. "We really went slow the first couple of weeks to put him in the best possible shape before he even threw a pitch. Once he reached a point, the medical team said he's ready to throw."

He wasn't just ready to throw, he was ready to pitch. Showing virtually no rust, Crow kicked things off with a pair of 1-2-3 innings in his first two outings. Building his stamina gradually, he pitched two innings in his final appearance.

He's been impressive on the mound, throwing his fastball in the 91-95 mph range and showing his slider and changeup. Even more impressive was his efficiency and his ability to keep the ball down in the zone.

"I think I did a good job of staying in shape," Crow said of his down time. "I wasn't facing hitters, but I was simulating. In my bullpens, I made sure I had a purpose for every pitch. I wasn't too surprised I've been able to do well so far. I'm really enjoying it, and I'm learning a lot of new things from coaches and other players."

Crow appears to be so far ahead of the Royals' expectations that they may not shut him down when instructs end on Friday. Instead, they may send the No. 12 overall pick to the Arizona Fall League to pitch more innings and see how he responds to the challenge of that advanced circuit.

"We want to make sure he feels good, his arm feels good, then maybe make four or five appearances there," Picollo said. "Nothing's been decided yet. "He goes about his business. He's a good kid, you wouldn't know if he was a first-rounder or a 45th-rounder. There's a lot of humility there. It's very refreshing and it's the attitude we're looking for."

"If I get that opportunity, it's going to be great," said Crow, who would join fellow 2009 pitching draftees Stephen Strasburg, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, Tanner Scheppers and Andy Oliver in the AFL. "Seeing all those other pitchers who are really talented, facing those hitters. It should be exciting, I'd love that opportunity."

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