Two years ago, Kyle Crick
was uncertain of what his future held. Chances are the Sherman, Texas, product never expected to be where he is today, if for no other reason than the fact that his time on the mound to that point had been limited.
"My junior year, the coach at my high school didn't think I was a pitcher," Crick said. "I'm not really sure what that was all about. As a result, until my senior year, I thought I probably was going to school to play football. I had some offers, but in the end it turned out to be baseball."
Despite his apparent abilities as a defensive end on the gridiron, Crick's favorite sport and most of his athletic efforts centered around baseball. Fortunately, his high school hired a new head baseball coach for his final prep campaign when Art Senato joined the program for the first of what proved to be two seasons at Sherman High School.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Crick fit the profile for a professional pitcher. Suffice it to say that his fastball, which typically resides in the low 90s but has been clocked as high as 97 mph, left more than a few scouts drooling. His obvious talent and the low mileage on his right arm led the San Francisco Giants to select the right-hander in the supplemental first round of the 2011 Draft.
Since signing with the Giants last summer, Crick has emerged as the top power pitcher in an organization that prides itself on developing young hurlers. Comparisons have been made between Crick and current San Francisco ace Matt Cain, who took the time to talk with the youngster in Spring Training about what the road ahead entails. To his credit, Crick has been a sponge during his first year with the Giants while trying to learn everything he can about the art of pitching.
"All of our pitching coaches in the organization really know what they're talking about," Crick said. "I listen to everything they say. They're helping me a lot."
Crick pitched in relief seven times in the Rookie-level Arizona League late last summer and posted a 1-0 record with a 6.43 ERA in seven innings. A strong showing in Spring Training earned the 19-year-old a spot in the Augusta rotation, where he has opened the slate with a 2-4 record and a 4.05 ERA in nine starts. Crick has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of those outings while surrendering only 33 hits in 40 innings.
"I started out a little rocky, but I think I've found my rhythm," Crick said. "Even in my last start -- even though the numbers didn't look good -- I threw my offspeed pitches for strikes. That's what I need to keep doing."
Scouts believe Crick's fastball has the potential to be a plus pitch in the Major Leagues. His slider can be effective, although he is working on improving the sharpness of the offering while reducing the sweeping action.
He is also working hard on implementing a changeup during his side work and is gradually introducing the pitch into his repertoire during games. Crick admits he needs more confidence in the change in order to trust it against professional hitters yet believes he will get to that point in the next few weeks.
Otherwise, the key for Crick comes in repeating his delivery in order to harness his control. He has issued 26 walks and hit eight batters in his 40 innings of work. On the flipside, he is doing a good job of working in the lower part of the strike zone, which has limited his home runs allowed to one.
"Consistency and not walking batters -- that's the main things for me right now," Crick said. "The key for any pitcher is to throw quality strikes and to stay ahead in the count. That's what I need to do every time I go out there on the mound."
Blackburn on a roll: After taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning last week against Lexington, Augusta's Clayton Blackburn came within one out of a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 triumph over Greensboro on June 5. Blackburn limited the Northern Division-leading Grasshoppers to four hits and a walk and fanned six before being removed after giving up a single in the ninth inning on his 102nd pitch of the contest. The right-hander has not allowed a run in his last 21 1/3 innings.
Crawdads cruising: Hickory won its eighth straight game while establishing a season-high for runs scored in a contest during a 14-5 victory over Kannapolis on June 4. Designated hitter Zach Cone paced the Crawdad attack with a season-high five RBIs. Hickory won four one-run games during the streak that ended with a 10-3 loss at Charleston on June 5.
More streaking: Kannapolis' Mark Haddow had his 17-game hitting streak come to an end during the Intimidators' loss at Hickory on June 4. Haddow put together the longest string of hits by any player in the Sally League so far this season while hitting .438 (28-for-64) with 11 RBIs and six walks.
Buechele not enough: Augusta third baseman Garrett Buechele did all he could at the plate but it was not enough to prevent the GreenJackets from getting swept by Asheville in a four-game series last week. On June 3, Buechele had three hits and drove in seven runs before the Tourists plated the game-winning tally in the ninth inning to take a 9-8 decision. Ironically, Buechele entered the matchup with two RBIs in his first 17 games this season with the GreenJackets.