When he was a teenager in Chicago, Casey Crosby could throw harder than anyone else, regardless of their age. His arm was golden. Because of that coveted arm, the Detorit Tigers selected him in the 5th round of the 2007 draft, throwing a nearly $750,000 signing bonus at him.
Nearly five years later Crosby doesn’t have exactly the same arm anymore. But thanks to science and his natural ability, he’s still one of the brightest prospects in the organization. This spring he has a good chance of making the big league club as the #5 starter.
When Crosby was signed as a high school senior, Mike Ilitch spent a lot of his money to make sure the youngster would steer clear of college campuses. The Tigers wanted to shape and mold the lefty into a big leaguer as soon as they could. But things didn’t go as planned.
Shortly after reporting to the Instructional League, the 18-year old hurt his elbow and as a result he underwent Tommy John surgery. The surgery is an all-too common procedure in the sport these days, but there was a time when it was groundbreaking. It’s named for the pitcher who first underwent the surgery – Tommy John – an excellent left-hander who was an All-Star for the White Sox and Dodgers before hurting his elbow in 1974. In September of that season, Dr. Frank Jobe took a tendon from John’s right forearm and put it into his left elbow. Most experts said that John would never pitch again, but the Dodgers and Dr. Jobe were not so sure. After sitting out a season, John came back in 1976 and went on to win 164 games after the surgery. Within a few years there were dozens of pitchers getting the procedure, and now it’s so common that when a pitcher doesn’t return from the surgery to pitch, he’s the exception.
Crosby bounced right back, as young pitchers often do from the surgery. He was on the mound again by the end of the 2008 season, and in 2009 he dazzled the Midwest League, going 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning, The 95-98 MPH fastball he’d had since he was about 15, was still there. Then, in 2010, Crosby suffered another setback. This time it was a “tired arm”, a baseball term that means the pitcher has tweaked something but doesn’t quite need surgery. The Tigers shut Crosby down for the year, wanting to protect his 21-year old arm. In 2011, he pitched more innings than he ever had as a pro, returning to the short list of Detroit’s best pitching prospects.
With his surgically engineered left arm, Crosby is pitching well this spring, zipping his fastball to the plate at 95-98 MPH while still working on a changeup. He’s in a battle with four other young pitchers for the final spot in Jim Leyland’s rotation. With three weeks until opening day, no decision has been made yet, but Crosby’s wonder arm has him in the thick of the race.
Crosby may not have all of the original parts in his talented left arm, but as far as pitching goes, he hasn’t missed a beat.