Jonathon Crawford wasn't getting much attention from colleges while pitching in Florida for Okeechobee High School.
"My junior year, I was hitting 92 miles an hour," Crawford said. "I just wasn't really playing well when scouts were at the game. I guess that put me under everybody's radar."
Crawford decided to give destiny a push. He paid $15 to attend a baseball showcase. His fastball was on, he had command and the Florida Gators' baseball staff took notice.
Now the Midwest League is paying plenty of attention to Crawford as he dominates for West Michigan. After an Opening Day struggle in freezing temperatures, Crawford has been stellar. He has a 0.84 ERA in six games over 32 1/3 innings since that first outing.
Taken in the first round (No. 20 overall) of the 2013 Draft by the Detroit Tigers, Crawford, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, was the highest selection of a Gators pitcher since 1991.
Although he could light up radar guns at 92 mph, he wasn't a blazing success at Florida early in his career. In fact, he wasn't on the Gators' College World Series roster his freshman season. His delivery had been changed, and he was given directions to the Northwoods League to work on improving his mechanics.
Crawford's hard work in the summer collegiate circuit paid off -- he refined a delivery that moved his hand away from his head more, turning an over-the-top arm slot into a more natural three-quarters.
"That helped me a lot," Crawford said of the change. "That made it 100 times easier to stay down in the zone, and then I started throwing more strikes. The ball felt great coming out of my hand."
Crawford went on to make NCAA news when he threw a no-hitter in the 2012 Regional against Bethune-Cookman. It was only the seventh no-hitter in a Division I tournament game and the first since John Burke accomplished the feat in 1991. After a standout junior season, Crawford was drafted by the Tigers.
"It's a matter of hard work," Crawford said of his success. "I've always loved playing baseball, and I've always known it's what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I just go out, work hard and have fun."
West Michigan pitching coach Mike Henneman agreed that Crawford's work ethic sets him apart.
"Jonathon's a hard worker, and he's eager to learn," Henneman said. "I want him to be more consistent. He knows it. There's no reason in the world why I would see anything different from him. He's mature. He's been around. He was in college. He'll be fine."
Crawford is hitting 96 mph on the radar gun now and mowing down Midwest League batters. He said that playing rugged Southeastern Conference competition has helped him in Class A baseball.
"In my opinion, the SEC is the best conference," Crawford said. "The hitters are always really tough. Playing in that conference for three years definitely prepared me for pro ball."
Long ball: South Bend's Steve McQuail joined an exclusive club by homering over the center-field fence at Four Winds Field. Team officials said only 10 players are believed to have hit homers to center, which means clearing a daunting green wall that stands 20 feet tall and 405 feet from home plate. The ballpark opened for Midwest League play in 1988. "I've been here a long time, and I've only witnessed three home runs over the center-field wall," South Bend manager Mark Haley said. "One was Mark Reynolds, one was Javier Baez, the big prospect for the Cubs, and now McQuail."
Productive team: Fort Wayne's 2009 club earned the Midwest League championship, and now those players are bringing more pride to the franchise. Infielder Cole Figueroa's promotion to the Tampa Bay Rays means 15 players from the 2009 TinCaps will have played Major League Baseball. Only the 2003 Lansing Lugnuts, who produced 16 big leaguers, have produced a higher total of big league players in the 68-year history of the Midwest League.
Double success: Peoria swept back-to-back doubleheaders for the first time in franchise history on May 13-14, also marking the Chiefs' first-ever four-game sweep at Cedar Rapids. Peoria has swept four doubleheaders and is 9-1 in twinbills this season. The Chiefs' last four-game sweep on the road was at Wisconsin in 2008.