RICHMOND — Once a Scrapper, always a Scrapper. At least for this summer. That was the message Kyle Crockett heard shortly after arriving in Ohio's Mahoning Valley for the first stop of his professional baseball journey.
"They told us … probably no one would move up for the rest of the year," Crockett said. "And a couple days later they moved me up to Lake County, and a couple weeks after that, they moved me up here to Double-A, which was a big surprise."
Crockett has defied expectations with the same M.O. that marked his careers at Poquoson High School and the University of Virginia: uncommon poise, on the mound and in the clubhouse, and superb control of three pitches.
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A slender left-hander with sneaky, but not overpowering, velocity, Crockett has thrived in three stops since the Cleveland Indians chose him in the fourth round of June's draft: the Class A short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Class A Lake County Captains and the Class AA Akron Aeros.
The Akron promotion was the most notable and took Crockett to Richmond last week, where family and friends saw him pitch a scoreless inning against the Flying Squirrels — gotta love those minor-league mascots.
"He's wasting no time," said Poquoson coach Ken Bennett, among those who visited Crockett in Richmond. "I expected him to move pretty quickly. I just didn't expect it this quickly."
Relaxing in the Aeros' dugout prior to a game, Crockett was as measured and understated as he is on the field. No matter that in 19.1 professional innings he has allowed one meager run — that calculates to a 0.47 ERA — while striking out 27 and walking three.
"I'm pretty much going out there and doing the same thing I did in college," he said, "and it's been working out for me."
In three seasons at national power Virginia, Crockett pitched to a sterling 1.97 ERA, developing into the Cavaliers' closer this past season. He's worked solely in middle-to-late relief since, pitching beyond one inning only three times in 16 pro appearances.
In his most recent outing, Friday at home against Reading, Crockett (1-0) threw two scoreless innings to earn his first victory.
The bullpen is fine by Crockett. He knows Major League managers covet southpaws they can summon in a pinch to retire left-handed hitters.
"I see myself more as a set-up man, seventh, eighth inning," Crockett said. "Or just go in there and get one or two lefties out at a time."
Akron pitching coach Greg Hibbard believes Crockett can do just that.
"If he makes a bad pitch or misses up in the zone, he does a good job of collecting his thoughts," said Hibbard, a former big-league pitcher with the White Sox, Cubs and Mariners. "Just very mature looking. … He throws 90-93 (mph). He's got some good velocity. I really like the way his fastball kind of climbs on the hitters.
"On early looks, hitters haven't been able to really square his fastball up on fastball counts. That means he's got a good late release out of his hand when he does throw 90 miles an hour.
"There's some criteria that he already has for this level. He commands his fastball, throws three pitches for strikes. … He's grown up, he's mature. You add all those things together, and that's what you're looking for in a Double-A player."
The most welcome and challenging transition for Crockett has been teaming with catchers to call his pitches — fastball, slider and curve. In college, coaches call pitches from the dugout.
"We want to see what they'll do," Hibbard said. "We want them to learn. We want them to understand. … They have to learn from their own experiences."
Another change in the pros: Clubhouse attendants clean your cleats. The first time a worker reached for Crockett's, the rookie said he could clean them himself.
"This is my job," the attendant assured him.