Name: Nic Crosta
DOB: November 17, 1982
The right-handed hitter began the year in Low-A Fort Wayne, shredding through the competition at the speed of a tree chipper. In 37 games, Crosta batted .382 with 20 extra base hits and 30 RBI's to go with a .490 on base percentage.
"When he was in Fort Wayne – you look at his swing, uppercut, loopy, whatever you want to call it," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable began. "He was such an aggressive hitter and such tremendous bat speed where he could get away with a lot of things. And he knew the strike zone pretty well. Again, in Lake Elsinore it was a little bit different in pitching but not that much."
He also hit .476 with runners in scoring position. It was easy to see why he moved to High-A Lake Elsinore so quickly.
"I think I've always known I belong and had confidence in what I can do on a baseball field," said Crosta.
"He's a big, physical kid who is a corner outfield type," Padres' vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "I drafted him twice and liked what I saw in his game.
"Obviously, the skills which he possessed have shown up. Now whether he continues to grow, that's another thing. To step out after missing half of his college season, and no baseball in the summer and no instructional league and nothing in the fall, to come and hit with me in the cage a little bit and all of a sudden, here he goes – I'm happy for the kid."
Things changed with the Storm. The Padres decided to alter his swing and cut down on the natural uppercut he displayed. That meant a lot of time with hitting coach Tom Tornicasa and growing pains.
The effort to alter his swing plane was made because the Padres were fearful the holes he left in his swing from being so quick through the hitting zone would be amplified as he went up the ladder.
By making his swing more level, he would keep the power but also eliminate the routine fly ball outs and add screaming liners to his arsenal. Plus, with his bat head sticking in the hitting zone for a prolonged period of time, even balls he is late or early on have a chance to be hit – where they would have been sure misses had the swing remained intact.
"His approach in terms of his balance and what not always seems like it's out of kilter," 2006 Lake Elsinore manager Rick Renteria said. "He has a very keen ability to put the bat on the ball. His balance and his approach is something he's working on right now to see if he can solidify it a little better and not make it as violent and erratic. See if that will allow him to stay truer to the ball and take a better path to the baseball. He uppercuts quite a bit, so we were trying to level off his path to the ball. He drives the ball and when he puts the ball in the air, he's got some juice. So if he can square that up a little bit, I think he'll be fine. He's definitely got something there to work with."
It translated into learning at High-A, an increase in strikeouts, and less power.
Surely those kinds of statistics would be frowned upon? Not so. It was as planned and the growing pains now will prevent him from experiencing the same fate when it is too late. Crosta took the journey and made a concerted effort to level out the swing – not an easy thing to do when it is go ingrained.
He actually hit more fly balls than grounders in Fort Wayne but that reversed with the change in Lake Elsinore. He did, however, overcompensate and top balls into the dirt, resulting in one-hoppers to the left side of the infield. He would also fall into the lull with his uppercut by reaching for balls and shooting them into right field for easy outs.
Crosta will also get anxious at the plate, swinging at pitches that he should take – the tough strikes or balls that fall out of the zone. A lot of that had to do with the comfort level he had with his swing.
He ended his California League tour hitting .267 over 71 games with 32 extra base hits and 44 RBIs. For the season, he notched a .302 average with 52 extra base hits.
Crosta was commissioned to attend the Padres Instructional League. He worked hard with part-time hitting instructor Jim Lefevre and continued to work with Tornicasa. The results began to show as he slowed his approach and took each at bat with a singular purpose. He also won the Padres annual home run derby at Instructs. He wound up leading all hitters in extra base hits as well and wants to take that success into next season.
"A guy who had power to all fields and got away with stuff because of his strength and bat speed," Venable explained. "Basically, what we worked on there was getting him to swing down through the ball to create a level path than the uppercut. He got away with it because of his tremendous bat speed and when he got balls they just kept going. If you didn't have the bat speed with the loop it is warning track power."
Crosta is more agile than he would appear and while he will never be a burner he does have a good first step. It resulted in six stolen bases and kept him out of a couple of double play balls.
The outfielder is, however, a below average defender, taking extra steps to the ball and not getting good reads off the bat with late breaks a common occurrence. The adventures continued – he also has misplayed more than a few balls off the wall and as they come down, allowing sure outs to drop in as hits. The most troubling gaffes he tended to make were on balls hit right at him – he would often end up taking circuitous routes when he really didn't have to move much at all.
He has a strong arm that is fairly accurate but does not put himself in the best throwing position possible when he comes up with the ball, resulting in off-target throws because they are rushed.
As he freely admits, the bat will be his road to the majors. The early signs are encouraging after he spent the year before out of baseball.
"It's been fun to watch his progress," Fuson said. "I'm actually amazed at this stage – what he's done. But I'm a realist. I know these things can happen from time-to-time."
ETA: Crosta, 24, is in line to move up to Double-A this season. It may take even more time for Crosta to accept all the changes to his swing and if he fully commits to it and can still show he can mash the future is bright. He will also have to show better pitch recognition and judgment to take advantage of his bat plane. Also, although his defense is downplayed, one just has to look at Jack Cust to see how important it really is. He must become better in the outfield or it will be an adventure he never gets to experience in the big leagues.