Fort Worth is the cattle roundup for wayward first-round pitching stock. Can't close a high-priced deal? Why, pardner, come on down to Texas, put on a Fort Worth Cats uniform and pitch in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball League.
Three years ago, University of Tennessee's Luke Hochevar went from the No. 40 overall selection to No. 1.
Two years ago, Missouri's Max Scherzer went from unsigned to signed with Arizona.
This spring, it was Aaron Crow's turn in the top-Cat rotation. And Crow -- yet another Missouri man -- cannot wait for his second go-around in the first-year player draft.
• Age: 22
• Height: 6-3
• Weight: 195
• Throws: Right
• Home: Wakarusa, Kan.
• School: Missouri.
• Skinny: 23-8 with 277 Ks in 301 IP at Missouri. ... 3-0 with 1.06 ERA and 17 Ks in 17 IP with the independent Fort Worth Cats last month. ... Diving fastball that can hit upper 90s and darting slider make his path to MLB seemingly short. Signability a factor -- he spurned 2008 Washington offer of $500,000 less than he and agents Randy and Alan Hendricks sought.
"It's been slow, man. It's been dragging on," Crow said by telephone from Fort Worth, where he stayed a week beyond his last start to work out and continue hanging with his teammates before tomorrow night's draft. "Pretty much the only thing I could do all offseason was work out, throw and get some running in. The rest of the day, I didn't know what to do with myself. I'm used to having classes or three hours of practice. The days seemed to crawl by.
"But I think it's been worth it."
Crow, a right-hander, was 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA in three May games for Fort Worth after throwing three scoreless innings in relief for the Cats in late 2008. By pitching there, he enhanced the scouting evaluations of an ability that, a year ago, was good enough for the Washington Nationals to draft him with at No. 9 and offer him a $3.5 million deal -- still a half-million too small for him and his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks.
"It's worked out great," said Crow, who solicited Fort Worth advice from Scherzer. "Everybody thinks the Independent League is not going to be very good baseball, and he told me these guys could play. I realized it when I got here. You wonder why they're here and not in Double-A or Triple-A. I was hoping to come down here and pitch really well, and I think I've done that."
"It's been kind of a little trend there, I guess, the last four or five years," Fort Worth manager Chad Tredaway said of the exodus of unsigned draftees. "I think it's great. He's been great, man. I'm a big fan of him because he's handled his business, he's one of the guys, doesn't expect anything special. Every outing he got better and better. There are nights you're facing lineups of a lot of ex-Double-A, ex-Triple-A guys, sometimes even ex-big leaguers. He adjusted like this really wasn't an issue at all. He's pitching his game, and having a lot of success."
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington witnessed one such outing, a May 20 early bird, pre-lunchtime home game in which Crow blanked Sioux City (Iowa) on three hits over six innings in a 5-1 triumph.
Of note: This is the second in a series on players the Pirates may take with the No. 4 overall pick in tomorrow's first round (6 p.m., MLB Network).
• First profile: Kyle Gibson (6/7/09)
"I didn't notice until afterward, I guess there were five GMs there," Crow said of the LaGrave Field stands that day. "It was cool to find out. But I didn't really notice. Especially down here, we're usually close to being sold out, so I can't tell the difference between a normal fan and a scout."
"Especially early, I'm pretty sure every club was represented -- 30 to 35 scouts every game," Tredaway said. "I know there have been quite a few general managers through [here] to see him. Obviously, Pittsburgh was here. San Diego and Seattle came through. Maybe even Boston once. ... I sure hope he goes in the top five. He's good enough to. I'd be surprised if he was around too long."
Crow may compete against former Missouri starter Kyle Gibson for a draft spot among those first five to 10 picks.
"Kyle kind of asked me that question," Missouri pitching coach Tony Vitello recalled of a recent conversation about comparisons. "I think Kyle by far had the best career of any Missouri pitcher. As far as the last game out the door, Aaron is the top of the list for a lot of reasons. The one thing Kyle can say over Aaron, right now there's a lot more gap where his ceiling is."
As Vitello put it, while describing Crow's stuff, "Aaron's got a breaking ball from hell for hitters. He's ready to go right now to the big leagues."
Correction/Clarification: (Published 6/10/09) Fort Worth Cats pitcher Aaron Crow is represented by agents Randy and Alan Hendricks. Scott Boras represented Luke Hochevar and Max Scherzer. Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .