Wil Crowe

Born: September 9, 1994
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 228
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 2nd Round, 65th Overall, 2017 (Nationals)
How Acquired: Trade (with Nationals)
College: University of South Carolina
Agent: N/A

The Indians drafted Crowe twice, but he didn’t sign until the Nationals drafted him in the second round in 2017.  He missed the 2016 college season due to Tommy John surgery and also missed part of the previous season with a UCL tear.  He throws the standard four pitches, all of which are average or maybe a little better.  His fastball sits in the low-90s and he relies heavily on his slider.  His command was generally solid in the minors but not in his brief major league debut.  He’s not a ground ball or fly ball pitcher, and he doesn’t miss a large number of bats.  The Pirates acquired Crowe from Washington in the trade for Josh Bell.

R:  0-0-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.2 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 4.9 K/9
A-:  0-0-0, 2.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 20.2 IP, 1.3 BB/9, 6.5 K/9

In his debut, Crowe made two starts in the GCL and seven in the New York-Penn League.  He pitched well without missing many bats.  Baseball America ranked him 7th in the Nationals’ system after the season.

A-:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 6.0 BB/9, 3.0 K/9
A+:  11-0-0, 2.69 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 87.0 IP, 3.1 BB/9, 8.1 K/9
AA:  0-5-0, 6.15 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 26.1 IP, 5.5 BB/9, 5.1 K/9

Crowe spent most of the season in the Carolina League, where his 11-0 record got him named the league’s outstanding pitcher.  He missed a decent number of bats and opponents batted .220 against him.  The Nationals moved him up to AA for five starts and he had a rough time there.  BA ranked him 5th in the Washington system after the season.

AA:  7-6-0, 3.87 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 95.1 IP, 2.1 BB/9, 8.4 K/9
AAA:  0-4-0, 6.17 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 54.0 IP, 4.3 BB/9, 6.8 K/9

The Nationals sent Crowe back to AA and he made 16 starts there and then moved up to AAA for ten starts.  He pitched well in AA without dominating, then had trouble in AAA.  Some allowance has to be made for the lively ball used in AAA in 2019, as well as the extreme hitting environment at Fresno in the Pacific Coast League.  BA ranked him 4th in an increasingly weak system.

MLB:  0-2-0, 11.88 ERA, 2.64 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 8.6 BB/9, 8.6 K/9

Crowe tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the Nats’ training camp in the summer, but was eventually able to make three starts for the team, which was plagued by injuries in the shortened season.  Those starts obviously went badly.  After the season, BA ranked him 10th in a system that was ranked near the bottom by most commentators.  The Nats traded him and Eddy Yean for Josh Bell on Christmas Eve.

AAA:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 1.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 0.0 K/9
MLB:  4-8-0, 5.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 116.2 IP, 4.4 BB/9, 8.6 K/9

Crowe opened the season with the Pirates, pitched once in relief and then was optioned to the alternate training site.  He came back to the Pirates near the end of April and spent the rest of the season in the rotation.  In fact, he led the team in starts, which says a lot more about the state of the Pirates’ pitching than it does about Crowe.  He struggled most of the time, getting his ERA below 5.50 in only one month.  Opponents put up a very healthy 276/363/501 line against him.  He tended to pitch well for a couple innings and then get hammered; that tended to happen in the second and fifth innings, when his ERA was 7.40 and 8.44, respectively.  Crowe seemed to rely, or try to rely, on getting hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone, leading to a high walk rate and a high gopher ball rate when he got the ball over the plate.  He gave up 25 longballs, or one every four and a half innings.  That tied him for eighth in the NL in home runs allowed even though he didn’t pitch a lot of innings.

MLB:  6-10-4, 4.38 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 76.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 8.1 K/9

Crowe spent the season pitching in relief, apart from one, two-inning start as an opener.  He led the team in appearances and relief innings.  Unfortunately, Crowe’s season went from good to bad in dramatic fashion.  He started off pitching in a multi-inning, middle relief role, and it was one of the few things that went right for the Pirates in the early season.  Then the already-thin late-inning relief corps started running into problems.  David Bednar and Yerry De Los Santos got hurt, and Chris Stratton got traded.  Derek Shelton responded by committing the classic blunder of moving a guy out of a role in which he’s succeeding, by moving Crowe to a late-inning role.  After putting up a 3.31 ERA, .569 opponents’ OPS, 1.20 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in the season’s first half, Crowe slumped to 6.66, .903, 1.81 and 6.7 in the second.  It’s impossible to say how much of this resulted from the change in roles, or from Crowe tiring from making so many appearances, or from statistical noise, but these were Crowe’s opponents’ OPS figures by inning:

6th — .601
7th — .547
8th — .720
9th — .898

A lack of success didn’t stop Shelton, though, as he used Crowe exclusively in the eighth and ninth innings from July 30 through September 20, except for one outing.  He had an ERA of 6.75 in that stretch.  Overall, Crowe’s K rate dropped from the previous year and his walk rate didn’t.  He did cut his gopher ball frequency in half.

In 2023, Crowe will try to get back to his early 2022 form.  It’d help if the Pirates kept him in the role that was working.  That’d mean they’d have to start trying to find late-inning relievers to join Bednar instead of loading the bullpen with (cheap) middle and mopup relievers, nearly all of them waiver claims.

2023: Major league minimum
Signing Bonus: $946,500
MiLB Debut: 2017
MLB Debut: 8/22/2020
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2026
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 8/22/2020
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2020, 2021)
MLB Service Time: 2.009
June 8, 2013: Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 31st round, 921st overall pick.
June 11, 2016:
Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 21st round, 632nd overall pick.
June 13, 2017:
Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 2nd round, 65th overall pick; signed on June 28.
August 22, 2020: Contract purchased by the Washington Nationals.
December 24, 2020: Traded by the Washington Nationals with Eddy Yean to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Josh Bell.