LAKELAND, Fla. -- If somehow a visitor could reach the doorway to the Tigers' clubhouse and still be unaware of their immediate surroundings, they might nonetheless conclude that baseball was in the vicinity. The locker directly across from the entrance is assigned to a left-handed rookie pitcher whose name is as baseball as home plate, double plays and catcher's interference -- Casey Crosby.
Go ahead, say it. It has a good sound. It has rhythm like Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews and former Tigers slugger Charlie Maxwell. Candy Cummins, Rickie Weeks and Rip Repulski. Denny Doyle, Vada Pinson and David Segui. Jason Giambi and Arky Vaughn. Casey Crosby ain't no Mickey Klutz, Doug Mientkiewicz, Juan Eichelberger or former Tigers catcher John Wockenfuss. The Phillies once had a prospect named Elijah Boneparte; his name wasn't too smooth either. And Casey Crosby comes out more smoothly than that of Tigers' non-roster invitee Chris Bootcheck.
Crosby says his mother recognized the gentle rhythm of the name she created and liked it. "My mom liked the name Casey. She knew the poem ['Casey at the Bat']," he said Monday morning. "She knew it was a sports name." But not just any sport. Baseball for sure; golf perhaps. But how many interior lineman or power forwards have such pleasant names? If Crosby had excelled in basketball, he would have been a point guard.
He did excel in football. Indeed, before the Tigers spent their fifth-round pick in the 2007 First Year Player Draft on Crosby, he was inclined to accept a scholarship to Illinois to catch passes. He is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds with a pitcher's physique now, at age 23. Football might have widened him.
The Tigers don't make personnel decisions based on names, of course. If Crosby, on the 40-man roster for the first time this year, finds himself on the big league roster come April 5 or sometime shortly thereafter when the schedule demands a fifth starting pitcher, it will be his curveball, command and arm strength that are responsible.
He is one of five young left-handed pitchers competing for the assignment (How many clubs have five left-handed starters available above Double-A?). The others include Adam Wilk, Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly and Duane Below.
The leading candidate may be right-handed Jacob Turner, who had a three-start cup of coffee last season and still may need some fine sanding.
Manager Jim Leyland says he likes each candidate, and feels no compulsion to carry a left-handed starter. "I can make a case for each one of them," he said. And the case for Crosby is that, "He can be overpowering with an outstanding curveball.
Crosby once was considered comparable to Rick Porcello, one of the four right-handed starters who comprise 80 percent of the projected rotation. But reconstructive elbow surgery in 2007, and more elbow maladies in 2010, have undermined his progress and prompted the club to wonder whether he would be better suited for relief pitching.