Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source March 2005

Crain could be key to Twins bullpen in '05

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The Minnesota Twins enter the 2005 season on a quest to win their fourth consecutive AL Central Division title. Because of their small market status, the core of the team is continually shifting. Last season marked the departure of stalwarts A. J. Pierzynski, Eric Milton, Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, and eventually, Doug Mientkiewicz. This off season the left side of their infield, Corey Koskie and Cristian Guzman signed lucrative free agent contracts elsewhere. This kind of mass exodus would mark a dramatic demise for most teams, but not the Twins.

Named the top organization in the game by Baseball America in 2004 for the second time in three seasons, the Twins minor league system has continued to crank out top-notch prospects to supplement their losses. Last season marked the permanent arrival of Justin Morneau and offered glimpses of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Jesse Crain. Along with Mauer (Kubel is out for the season after injuring his knee in the Arizona Fall League), Crain could be one of the keys to the teams defense of the division title.

Crain, rated the teams 3rd best prospect by Baseball America, was the Twins 2nd round draft pick in 2002 out of the University of Houston, where he played both shortstop and pitcher. "(The Twins) were interested in me just as a pitcher," Crain explained when asked about his position choice. "I always knew growing up that I would be able to get further as a pitcher. I played shortstop as long as I could, but they wanted to draft me as a pitcher so I agreed and ended up just being just a pitcher."

Throughout his college and professional career the flame throwing right hander has been used exclusively out of the bullpen, often as a closer. "I’ve been a closer and a short inning guy – two, maybe three innings once and awhile," Crain said. "That’s what I’ve been doing the whole time and I’m used to it. I like doing it."

In 2003, Crain saved 15 games in three minor league stops and was named the franchises’ minor league pitcher of the year. In 2004, he racked up 19 saves with Triple A Rochester before earning a promotion to the big leagues on August 1.

When asked if getting to the big leagues was his goal in 2004, Crain responded. "Oh definitely, especially after going to big league camp (in Spring Training) and getting a taste of it. All of your work goes toward getting here, but you’ve also got to get the job done (in the minors), or you’ll never make it up. That’s what I tried to do in Triple A, and now I’ve been lucky enough to get a shot up here on this team – a playoff caliber team."

Just four days after the call-up, he made his major league debut, entering the game to face eventual MVP Vladimir Guererro, "I was definitely a little nervous going into that situation against one of the best teams out there and facing one of the best hitters out there," the rookie said. "I tried to stay within myself; I think I jumped a little bit. I threw pretty good that day, it was pretty good for a major league debut, I think."

Crain, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Colorado, kept the momentum going throughout the year, finishing with a 3-0 record and 2.00 ERA in 27 innings and earned a spot on the post season roster. The rookie reliever credited his level-headed approach for his success.

"I’ve been going out there with the same mentality every time, and it’s been working all right," the prospect commented. "I just go out there, take it easy, keep the ball down, and feel comfortable. What worked (in Triple A), is going to work up here. You gotta know that coming in, but sometimes that’s the hardest part mentally."

Based on his success in the minors and strong showing in 2004, many believe Crain is the Twins closer of the future. He however, chooses not get ahead of himself, "(Becoming a closer) is what I’d like to do someday, but you never know what’s going to happen," he explained. "I’ll just go out whenever they put me out there right now."

For now, Crain is just focusing on making the Twins Opening Day Roster and spending his first complete season in the majors, "My main goal, and biggest goal, is just to make the team," he explained. "That’s what I’ll work for all off-season, and once I get there it’s all about staying there."

-David Zingler

Crain's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com  

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