The speedy leftfielder is showing a new focus, resulting in one of the Rays' few bright spots.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 11, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - As much bad news as there has been concerning the Devil Rays, and you might have read a little of it, there has been a story line about something going on pretty good.
And, if it works out the way Carl Crawford is hoping, it could soon be great.
As the Rays have plummeted to the worst record in the major leagues and have struggled in every facet of the game, Crawford has been one of their few success stories, hitting .300, ranking second in the league with 14 steals and playing some of the best leftfield in either league.
"You want to prove to everybody that you can get better," Crawford said. "You've got to have the will to want to show everybody you can play and that last year wasn't just an accident. You want to be great. You want to never settle - for anything."
Crawford, 22, came into spring training determined to better the good impressions he made last year in his first full major-league season.
He reported in tremendous shape, has been focused and driven from the start and has taken a much more serious approach to the game. He has shown improvement at the plate and in the outfield and is working to find a middle ground between discipline and aggressiveness on the bases.
"Not only has he continued to impress us, more importantly he's continued to improve," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He's going from a major-league prospect to an All-Star caliber player before our very eyes. And it's great to see."
Crawford is fun to watch, though you have to look quickly because speed is his biggest weapon. He can change a game running from home plate, running around the bases and running down a fly ball.
"I think he's already establishing himself as one of the better defensive leftfielders in the American League and has a chance to truly step forward and become the best defensive leftfielder in this league," LaMar said. "He already won one stolen base title in the American League on his way to many, and he continues to improve. We think he's a .300 hitter, and who knows because of his ability and foot speed where that will end up.
"And people have just seen glimpses of this, but it won't surprise me if we look up one day and see him hit 20 home runs in the major leagues. Our scouts have felt that way since the day we drafted him."
The Rays aren't the only ones who have noticed.
"This kid can be one of the best players in the American League pretty soon," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr. with more enthusiasm. This kid is going to be special."
Opposing teams are paying more attention to Crawford at the plate, shifting their defense to limit his infield hits and taking considerable measures to try to at least slow him on the bases.
Sometimes it doesn't matter.
"That Crawford kid is so fast he should be in the Olympics in the 100-meter dash," Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers said last week. "One bounce you've got a chance, two bounces he's on first base, three and he's on second."
Crawford said the biggest change he made this year was in his approach, making a dedicated effort to work harder. He is coming to the ballpark earlier, seeking extra work in the batting cages, asking more questions.
"Last year I'd just show up, take BP and get ready for the game," Crawford said. "It's a little different now. I'm seeing what the pitcher is throwing, recognizing how he's trying to get me out, getting my body loose, getting my workouts in. I'm getting better prepared for the games on a daily basis."
The Rays like just about everything they've seen. He ranks among the league leaders in triples (four) and outfield assists (three) and is second on the team with a .344 on-base percentage.
His only real problem has been on the bases. After leading the AL with 55 steals last season, he is finding teams are making it a bit tougher for him this year; he is second in the AL with 14 steals but has been caught a league-high five times.
Overall, the Rays just want Crawford, like any young player, to learn the strike zone better and show more plate discipline; he shares the team lead with 21 strikeouts.
"As he learns the strike zone, that's really the key to him becoming an outstanding all-around player," LaMar said. "His foot speed, his defensive ability, his makeup, his work ethic - all those things are unquestioned.
"But he has to continue to learn the strike zone. Right now, even as good as he's going, he's giving a lot of at-bats away. And when he starts to cut those down and maximize the at-bats he has, there's no telling what kind of player he'll end up being."