Position: RHP Height: 6-1 Weight: 200 Born: 7/5/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Twins drafted Jesse Crain in the second round in 2002 from the University of Houston, where he was a pitcher/shortstop. He hit .309 with 11 homers as a junior, while also racking up 10 saves and a 0.23 ERA (46/10 K/BB in 38 IP). Minnesota moved him to the mound full-time, continuing to use him in the closer role he filled at Houston. His '02 pro debut went well, and in '03 he emerged as one of the top relief prospects in the game, finishing the year at Triple-A Rochester. Crain's rise has been rapid and he should see action in the Show sometime in 2004.
As you would expect from a former shortstop, Crain is a fine overall athlete. He has a live body and excellent arm strength, pushing his fastball to 95 mph at times, with movement. His second pitch is a hard slider, which is one of the better breaking balls in the minor leagues. The pitch has bite, and he can throw both of his offerings for strikes. Crain also has a changeup and a knucklecurve, but doesn't need the secondary offerings as much coming out of the bullpen. Command is a strength for him: his mechanics are consistent and he doesn't have too many problems with control. He has an unusual combination of command, movement, and velocity. Scouts like his presence on the mound, and so far at least he has thrived in pressure situations.
Crain's statistical record is marked by excellent ratios across the board: his K/IP and K/BB rates have been consistently above average or better. He posted a 89/20 K/BB in 65 innings in Double-A and Triple-A last year. His control wavered a bit at Rochester, but not enough to draw serious concern at this point. Crain has yet to give up a home run as a professional pitcher, due to the action on his pitches. Statistically, everything looks great at this point, and confirms what the scouts say about him. His ratios at Rochester imply that he will be ready for major league action very soon.
Crain has had no serious health problems. He has less mileage on his arm than many college pitchers, and his combination of athleticism and consistent mechanics should help keep him healthy, especially when used in the bullpen.
What to expect
The departure of free agents Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins leaves the Twins without a clear closer entering 2004. Veteran Joe Nathan will get a shot at the role this spring, but in the medium and long terms, Crain looks like a good bet to take the job. He has the velocity, command, and personality intangibles to close games in the Show. Expect Crain to see major league action in middle relief in 2004, and possibly pick up some saves depending on how other pitchers perform. He's the best bet to be the new Twins closer in the long run.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.