Rays Digest: First of all I was wondering if you could give me a scouting report on yourself in terms of what kinds of pitches you throw and stuff like that.
Shay Crawford: I'm primarily a fast ball, breaking ball pitcher. I throw two-seam fast balls and this summer they were 88-90 (mph) - maybe touching 91 sometimes - and I kind of work off that. Then I have a slider, that really improved over the summer working with Marty (DeMerritt ), the pitching coach at Princeton. I think it was more of a slurve when I got there, but it ended up being more of a true slider and a really good pitch for me. A work in progress has been the change-up and that's something that I've really been emphasizing this off-season. I'm excited about bringing it out in the spring. But I mainly worked off those two pitches in the summer.
Rays Digest: You were talking about being at Princeton last year. You had a tremendous amount of success last year there and also in the Gulf Coast League. Your strikeout numbers were pretty ridiculous. (laughing) Could you tell me a little bit about your season last year and how it was different from college?
Shay Crawford: Being a 41st round pick, I just came in with the idea that I had to come in and prove myself every time out. I'm going to be taking that mentality into the spring too. I'm 24 now, so I'm a little up there in age and it took me a long time to get here. So when I got there, I really just emphasized on attacking the zone. So I was trying to go with my best stuff every time and be aggressive and it paid off. I'd attack guys with the fastball and felt very confident in my slider. I just felt like I could go right after guys. For the most part I found success. There were a couple of outings where I wasn't getting the downward bite on my slider and it came back to bite me a little bit. But for the most part, I felt pretty confident in attacking the hitters with my best stuff. So that was kind of the plan I stuck to and for the most part found success with that.
Rays Digest: You had mentioned that you were a 41st round pick and that you are 24 years old now. Was there a thought last year that maybe you wouldn't get drafted? Were you kind of biting your fingernails and thinking that maybe you had missed an opportunity?
Shay Crawford: It's actual kind of a pretty crazy story. I transferred from UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham) - I had been at UAB for 4 years but had gotten hurt one year - and had a medical red shirt year available. But after playing at UAB I just really wasn't enjoying baseball. So I hung it up. I started working in Nashville and on just some whim decided that I might be interested in playing my fifth year. I sent out a couple of e-mails to a few NAIA schools in Tennessee not really expecting to get an answer. I ended up somehow at Lee University, a traditional NAIA-powerhouse-type program and found some success there.
I think the turning point was when they said to go back to throwing in a way that feels normal to you. I think at UAB I was trying to be someone I wasn't and trying to have perfect mechanics and it just wasn't me. So when I was at Lee they told me to go back to what ever felt natural and comfortable and I did and found success.
I was on my computer on draft day, not really sure if I was gonna get picked or not and not really having any expectations that I would be. I got a call from the Twins in like round 36 or 37 saying that they might take me, but then they ended up not taking me. So I got up from the computer and went outside and was actually getting ready to leave - I think I was going to work out or something - and then got a call from a Tampa Bay Rays scout who told me that they were going to take me in the 41st.
It was an incredible moment. It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. A lot of hard work had finally paid off. I didn't really think it was going to happen, but it did and I was very excited to get the opportunity that I did.
Rays Digest: That really is a great story. While you were at Lee University you had a really phenomenal year, you were 11-2 with 1.21 earned run average. You mentioned that you had taken a year off. Do you feel like that having taken that year off and then going ahead and transferring to Lee was an intergal part of your development as a person and as a player?
Shay Crawford: I finished up that spring at UAB - it was my red shirt junior year there - and I had pretty much gotten rid of all my baseball stuff. I was finished. I moved to Nashville and started in internship that summer for my Business Administration degree at UAB. Two months passed - I think it was July maybe - when I started thinking that I might want to start playing again. So I didn't necessarily take a year off, I had just moved on from baseball.
When that all happened I got to Lee not with the expectation of getting drafted, but of just having fun. Baseball at UAB just really wasn't fun for me anymore and I wasn't enjoying it. I think seeing a lot of the guys that I had grown up with and played with getting drafted really got me down. I think going to Lee really helped me learn to have fun with baseball again, something that I hadn't had in awhile. That helped me with relaxing and not really worrying about the expectation of getting drafted and having to prove myself to everybody and letting everybody down. I think that relaxing and going back to being myself like I was in high school really helped. I credit that to the coaching staff at Lee and my parents who really helped me a lot during that time, because I was pretty down. It ended up working out for the best and I am really excited about it.
Rays Digest: You said that you weren't really happy at UAB and that you were watching friends get drafted . Was your deciding to quit baseball at that time a direct result of your frustration and you just gave up because you didn't think there was going to be a future in it for you?
Shay Crawford: I think when I realized that it wasn't fun anymore, that's when I realized that I needed to move on. I loved my coaching staff at UAB, there was never an issue with the coaching staff. They're great guys and I still get in touch with them from time to time. I just kind of felt like if I wasn't enjoying it anymore then it was probably best to move on. I would say that was kind of the reason. Not getting drafted and realizing that there might not be a future in it kind of got me down - that was part of the reason - but I think there were a lot of other reasons that went into it as well.
Rays Digest: You're getting ready to go to your first spring training here in a couple of weeks. What have you been doing this off-season to prepare for camp? Have you been throwing? Have you been hitting the gym? What have your preparations been like?
Shay Crawford: An area of focus for me has been gaining strength in my upper body, so I've hit the weight room extremely hard since I got back. I think I've put on close to ten pounds of muscle since I started. I'm really excited to see how that translates into added velocity. The coaching staff that worked with me were hoping that I could get into that 90-92 mph range as a reliever out of the bullpen. I had told you that I was in the 88-90 range last year, so I'm excited to see if the added strength increases my velocity. I Have been going according to the Rays' throwing plan. That started about three weeks ago. I'm going to start getting on the mound here in the next week. I'm excited to get going.
Rays Digest: You threw exclusively out of the bullpen last year. Is that the role that Rays envision for you or that you envision for youself in the organization?
Shay Crawford: Yes. I was pretty much told right off the bat that If I was going to move up in the organization, it was going to be in that role as a lefty reliever out of the bullpen. So I've kind of embraced that. I really enjoy it. I like the idea of being able to throw multiple days in a row. I was pretty much a starter all throughout college. had some relieving experience but not much. It took a little but of time to get used to. Having to warm up really quickly and going through that process. But I've really enjoyed it and really embraced it. I feel good about it and feel like that gives me the best shot.
Rays Digest: In terms of mental preparation, what kinds of adjustments have you had to make transitioning into the bullpen?
Shay Crawford: I think being a starter, you have a lot more time. You are very detail oriented and have a warm-up plan that you go through as a starter. I repeated that routine every week. The mental adjustment as a reliever is just knowing that at any time you might have to warm-up and go out there and throw. It took awhile to get adjusted to that and feel like "OK I'm warm enough, now I can get on the mound and throw." It's a mental adjustment learning to speed up a little through that warm-up process. Over the summer I think I got pretty used to that.
Rays Digest: You were talking a little bit earlier about your age. It's a great story about how you finally got drafted. Does the fact that you'll have to fight through the whole "he's to old for this level thing" cross your mind? Or are you just going to try and go out there and do your best and not worry about it?
Shay Crawford: It's definitely crossed my mind. But I think that my parents and girlfriend and everybody have convinced me to juts go out there and take it day-by-day. If it ended tomorrow, I'd be ok with it, because I made it. I got drafted and got that shot that I was looking for and had a lot of un with it. It's a great opportunity that I got drafted and nobody can ever take that way from me. I'm just going to go out in spring training and hope it all works out. If it doesn't, I have a college degree and I'd be happy with whatever came next.
We'll have the second part of this exclusive interview here on Rays Digest tomorrow.______________________________________________________________
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.