Trevor Crowe was the 14th pick in the 2005 draft. You're welcome to go look at the first round of that draft to try to generate a "Why didn't we pick that guy?!" moment, but the best you'll probably do is Matt Garza, 11 picks later, or Colby Rasmus, three picks after Garza. Baseball's draft doesn't lend itself well to either prognostication or hindsight-fueled regret; Crowe may feel like a disappointment to Indians' fans but, relative to his draft position, his career to date has been standard.
Cleveland selected Crowe out of the University of Arizona, where he'd played the outfield and hit .403/.477/.715 as a junior, the year before he left college. Crowe was not considered a slam dunk of a pick at the time, although it's hard to find much draft reaction from 2005. Crowe was drafted just before the baseball blogosphere exploded and picks 1-400 all gained the opportunity to inspire or infuriate, depending on your mood. Like most first round picks out of college, he hit like crazy and it's hard to determine exactly what that meant for the prospect of him playing in the major leagues.
Mahoning Valley welcomed Crowe for some short-season at the end of 2005, before the Indians ran him through Lake County and Akron; the Lake County move needs no explaining, and though I don't feel like digging it up, I'm relatively sure Crowe went to Akron for the playoffs. It's not an uncommon practice for teams to add top prospects to playoff teams at slightly elevated levels — it's an attempt to build camaraderie among a cohort of guys who may reach the majors together, and also a chance for the top prospects to experience some "bigger" games, relative to the typical minor league affair.
Crowe didn't perform well in his pro debut, but that's not particularly unusual or relevant, obviously. When he made his full-season debut with Kinston (the team that is now Carolina — the Indians' High A affiliate), Crowe justified his first round pedigree. In 60 games, Crowe hit .329/.449/.470, walked 48 times versus 46 strikeouts, and earned his way to Akron for the final 40 games of the season. He scuffled in Akron, but his BB:K stayed very strong (20:24) and he'd entered the top prospect lists. Heading into 2007, Baseball America tabbed Crowe the #64 prospect in the game and the Indians appeared to have found a player. Baseball Prospectus summarized Crowe this way in their 2007 Annual:
The team`s first-round pick in 2005, Crowe`s full-season debut was pretty stunning. He reached base 122 times in 60 games for Kinston before an ankle injury, a muscle strain in his rib cage, and a very short-lived (six errors in six games) move to second base limited him at Akron. More than just an on-base machine, Crowe should be good for 10 to 15 home runs a year. The only problem is that Sizemore is this organization`s center fielder, so Crowe will have to provide enough production for left field, where offensive expectations are much higher.
Crowe was on track, at least momentarily. As BP wrote, Indians were also experimenting with Crowe's positioning during that 2006 season — the team wanted to make him a second baseman. The move was made because of organizational need. As Jay commented in February 2006:
I'm really glad they're moving him to 2B. I tend to trust the experts, and the Indians have good experts. But I could not for the life of me understand why we'd want a slap-hitting CF when we already have several CF in Buffalo and Cleveland who have middle-of-the-order potential. I don't know that we have the ability to scout a player and say, "Minimal power, but he's a slam dunk .420 OBP guy regardless." I've never seen any situation remotely like that.
Points to anyone who can recall who these "several CF" were. Answers after the jump.
The glut of CF's Jay was referring to probably included some of: Sizemore, Brian Barton, Franklin Gutierrez, Shin-Soo Choo (acquired the previous July), Brad Snyder, and Ben Francisco. As Jay wrote, it made a lot of sense to move Crowe, who wasn't in Sizemore or Gutierrez's class, especially, to somewhere besides LF or RF. The Indians would use this strategy again, years later, to derive a lot of value out of another college outfielder: 2nd round pick from 2009, Jason Kipnis.
The move worked a lot better for Kipnis than it did for Crowe. He barely played at all at 2B and some of his injuries at the time, if I remember correctly, were attributed to the position switch. Cleveland cashed its chips in on the experiment at the end of 2006, assumedly figuring they'd take the bat that Crowe had shown in Kinston and figure out the rest later — this probably seemed eminently doable considering the success the Indians had just had with another speedy tweener, Coco Crisp, who they'd stuck in LF to leave Sizemore at his natural position.
And, again, the bat had really played: BA had him in the top 100 and the Red Sox were willing to part with Manny Ramirez for a pack of Crowe, Carmona, and Adam Miller. Remember, that was entering a 2007 season that saw Carmona dominant, but also one that saw the Indians playing Trot Nixon in the outfield.
Keeping Crowe off second in 2007 didn't help his bat figure out AA, though. He posted a sub-700 OPS in Akron, although he did OPS 812 after the break (again, per BP). Perhaps there was some reason to hope but Crowe was now entering his age 24 season and set to repeat AA. His defensive reputation had also faltered during the 2007 season, and he was now starting to be viewed as a tweener without enough bat to play a corner.
Crowe's 2008 was his last gasp as a prospect, putting up and 867 OPS across AA and AAA. However, things weren't all that rosy: Trevor appeared in only 84 games and his BB:K skills had deserted him: for the year, he walked 42 times versus 71 strikeouts. At this point it was becoming obvious what Crowe's ultimate ceiling was likely to be: a fourth outfielder, perhaps an everyday centerfielder on a very bad team. Still, Crowe still had a strong rep as a 'gamer', going back to the infamous "Ty Cobb" quote that Peter Gammons had made. I can't find the link for that, but there is a mention in this game thread of how crazy Gammons was for Crowe: in June 2006, he was stating that the Indians thought Crowe might be ready for the majors in 2007.
That hadn't happened, clearly, and the Indians didn't finally bring Crowe to the majors until 2009. He made the team out of spring training — perhaps his game would rise to the level of competition, as it eventually had in Buffalo and Akron. You probably remember the Crowe story from there: he hit very poorly over scraps of the next three seasons whether in Cleveland or its farm affiliates. He was essentially a regular on the Indians' 69 win team in 2010, and he hit approximately as you'd expect a regular on a 69 win team to hit.
Crowe was released from Columbus on July 16 and was immediately picked up by the Angels. The Indians didn't have any need for Crowe and he'd already been moved off the 40 man in November, 2011. I'm not sure if there was any particular motivation for releasing Crowe (he'd been bad in Columbus this season, but it's not as if they couldn't have stuck him somewhere), or if it was simply time for both parties to move on. Crowe immediately signed with the Angels, which is unsurprising considering the Angels had targeted Crowe in the aborted Bobby Abreu trade from this past offseason.
Though never much of a player for the Indians, Crowe always seemed like a decent guy and his twitter sign-off to Cleveland reflected that. I'm not holding my breath on Trevor having much of a major league career, but I can't imagine any Indians fan would mind. Crowe's trajectory as a prospect isn't particularly unusual: his skills, especially plate discipline and power, didn't play up as he climbed the ladder, and his developmental problems were certainly exacerbated by games missed while injured. He's not really a cautionary tale — the Indians didn't "mess him up", not in any way that I can tell at least. Instead, he's just a player who isn't quite good enough for the majors, at least to this point. That's the story on the 14th pick in most drafts, I'd suspect.