Ben Krosschell, the Padres 16th round selection out of Highlands Ranch (Colo.) High School in 2004, initially caught the eye of many scouts as a teenager with a powerful fastball that often reached speeds in the mid-to-low 90s.
Fast-forward two years and now in his second stint in Eugene, the 6-foot-1, 177-pounder has been unable to find his groove, and the once confident youngster seems shaken. Four times this season, he's pitched less than an inning and given up multiple earned runs, including in his latest appearance against Boise when he came on in relief in the sixth inning of a one-run game. A double, two singles, a walk and two runs later, Krosschell's night was over with him unable to record a single out.
"He's going through a tough time in his career," pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "Especially at his age, being that young, it's something he's going to have to work through mentally and physically."
Though Krosschell's record is 2-0, his ERA stands at 7.63 and he's walked 15 batters this season in 15.1 total innings pitched. He's surrendered 16 hits, 14 earned runs and struck out nine.
Compare those numbers to his prior stint in Eugene in 2005 as a starter, and it's easy to see that Krosschell has taken a step backwards. That year, he held a 4.70 ERA in 76.2 innings pitched with 18 walks, 83 hits, and 59 strikeouts. Despite leading the Northwest League in losses that season with seven, Krosschell also received the worst run support of any pitcher in the Padres' system.
Krosschell summed up the difference from 2005 to 2006 very simply.
"Ben Krosschell last year was a starter that threw strikes. He threw low 90s. He spotted up, didn't walk anybody, had a lot of confidence, and did really well," Krosschell said. "Ben Krosschell this year is struggling to throw strikes…I don't know if it will be fixed tomorrow, the next day, a month, it might take the offseason, but I'm just trying to stay positive."
For many, it is fairly unfamiliar to see the hard-throwing right-hander without loads of confidence. Following an impressive high school career, Krosschell confidently signed with the Padres in 2004 to begin his life as a pro after opting against the college route, despite signing a letter of intent to play at New Mexico State University.
That decision paid off early for Krosschell as he spent a successful year in Peoria, pitching 48.1 innings, giving up 48 hits, striking out 40, and boasting a 2.42 ERA. He climbed the ladder to Eugene for his first stop in 2005 after he was named the Instructional League MVP.
Krosschell started 2006 in Fort Wayne, but that's where the struggles began. In four games – three of which he was tagged with the loss – Krosschell pitched 17 innings, giving up 22 hits and 16 earned runs for an 8.47 ERA. He was sent down to extended spring training and reassigned in Eugene where his troubles have clearly continued.
Krosschell says the current struggles are mental but scoffs at the notion that the pressure and expectations – a direct result of being a young and talented pitcher – are finally catching up to him. He also disregards the notion of any regrets about not attending college, where he'd be entering his junior year.
"I can honestly say, I don't feel pressure. It's just a matter of me going out there and having confidence in what I can do," Krosschell admitted. "I see myself on the same level as everyone here whether they went to a top division-one school or they signed out of high school or junior college. They're all the same, and it's just me working through it."
For now, Krosschell said he'll take a few months of the offseason to "clear his head" before returning to the game, and, for the remaining month of this season, he'll lean on the support of his family and coaches who have helped him remain positive through such a difficult time in his young career.
"We're pretty close," Whitehurst said of his relationship with Krosschell. "He's a tremendous human being. I care a lot about him, and obviously we all want him to succeed. He's one of our favorites. I wish he wouldn't be going through this but we've got to guide him through it any way we can."
Confucius once said, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising after we fall."
Those may be wise words for Krosschell as his true character likely will be determined and career defined by how he responds from the adversity he is now facing.
Stay tuned – you likely haven't heard the last of Ben Krosschell.