Garrett Crochet has never faced the Angels in his Major League career covering five regular-season games and six innings.
But when the left-handed White Sox reliever, ranked as the club’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, takes the mound at Angel Stadium during the first series of the 2021 season, he’ll be prepared to go against Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. It’s not so much preparation through scouring scouting reports, as much as visualization used by Crochet on a daily basis.
“I expect it to be pretty overwhelming at first,” Crochet told MLB.com. “That’s why I think about it every night before I go to bed. Hopefully when that moment comes, I won’t be starstruck and I’ll be ready to seize the moment.”
One year ago, Crochet was dealing with the shutdown caused by COVID-19 just like everyone else in the country. But his stoppage was slightly different, in that the 21-year-old only made one start covering 3 1/3 innings for the University of Tennessee and wondered how his Draft status would be affected.
Crochet was also disappointed that teams wouldn’t be able to see his “new and improved self,” which he eventually had the chance to show with the White Sox after they selected him 11th overall. That personal improvement had a couple of components, according to Crochet.
“Since my sophomore year, I’ve become a lot more of a strike-thrower and a lot more fundamentally sound mentally,” Crochet said. “I’m able to have some cues that will put me back on if I start to get a little sporadic with my fastball command, like I can kind of bring myself back into the zone.
“It used to be once it hit the fan, it was kind of all over the place; but now I have some cues to bring me back down to earth whenever stuff starts going haywire. Positive self-talk is the main thing I’ve gotten better at over the years.”
Those cues seemed to work for Crochet, who made his first Major League appearance on Sept. 18 in Cincinnati after putting in time at the organization’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill. It came a little less than six months before his first career Cactus League appearance during this year’s Spring Training.
Not only did Crochet strike out eight without issuing a walk in 2020, but he also ranked second in the Majors for highest total of pitches thrown at 100 mph or above with 45. Some believe the left flexor strain that Crochet sustained during Game 3 of the American League Wild Card series in Oakland — causing a planned three-inning outing to drop to two-thirds of an inning — was a major factor in the White Sox elimination.
That 100-mph velocity has been a tick down during Crochet’s eight Cactus League appearances (he has one remaining on March 28). That high velocity level certainly remains reachable, but it’s not the ultimate priority for Crochet, who has a 2.25 ERA over eight innings during Cactus League play.
“Everybody wants to see 100 [mph]. I want to see 100 too, but my arm is feeling good,” Crochet said. “I’m competing out there as best as I can. Everything is feeling in sync. All my pitches are starting to get better every time I go out there.
“Regardless of whether I’m seeing 100 or not, health is the main concern, and I’m feeling really good. It’s still upper 90s. I felt like I used to train a lot for velocity. That was definitely something I put a lot of thought and my effort into. It’s something that’s still on my mind at certain times, but I’m definitely more concerned now with getting outs and competing and making pitches when I need to make pitches.”
These outs and appearances will be coming over the course of a 162-game schedule in 2021, and not on planned days to pitch as the White Sox carefully arranged for Crochet in his debut. Crochet also will be pitching in a setup role for a top-flight team, according to manager Tony La Russa. But Crochet can visualize the challenge, visualize his mechanics being in sync and visualize executing his pitches.
It all begins in Anaheim, with Crochet ready to face Trout, Pujols or even Shohei Ohtani with the game on the line.
“If you weren’t to visualize once you step on the mound and they’re in the box, the moment might seem a little too big,” Crochet said. “It’s definitely good seeing that in my head over and over again and going through these mental reps. I feel like I’ve already faced Mike Trout six or seven times by now. I feel that will carry over well to the season.”
“He’s not fazed by pitching in the big leagues,” said La Russa of Crochet. “Maybe it’s because if you had his talent, you wouldn’t be fazed either. He knows he’s going to matchup good with anybody. He’s a weapon and he’s not afraid.”