Crede a beacon of hope for prospects
Highly touted third baseman took time before realizing potential
TUCSON, Ariz. -- He came to the Majors carrying the tag of "can't miss prospect," which often times can be more of a bane than a boon to a player's existence.
There was talk of yearly .300 averages after he won a Carolina League batting title in 1998, along with 25 home runs and 80 or 90 RBIs on a regular basis, not to mention the ability to flash some spectacular leather at his respective position. But in Joe Crede's first full Major League season, he didn't quite live up to those expectations. The statistics actually got worse in the second season, and they weren't exactly positioning him for the Hall of Fame in Season No. 3.
This story could be about Brian Anderson, the White Sox top pick from the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, and the center fielder who suffered through a miserable rookie campaign. But unless there are psychics dotting the large base that makes up the White Sox faithful, Anderson has yet to start his second full season.
Instead, this is a tale about a player who not only has become one of the American League's best third baseman but also one of the top clutch hitters in the game. This is a look at Crede, who basically took two years and five months into his third year before his offensive showing began to match his Gold Glove-caliber defense.
It's a process not lost on a young player such as Anderson, who some pundits on the outside looking in inexplicably have given up on despite his immense potential. But if Anderson needs a boost of encouragement as he fights for the team's final roster spot over the next week, he need only look at Crede two or three lockers to his left.
"Yeah, it's definitely motivating because he's so good now," said Anderson of Crede. "[Crede] tries to remind me all the time.
"He's like, 'You have no idea. I went through the same stuff as you, but I just hit for more power. I was overmatched.' It's amazing how you can develop as a player like him."
Crede certainly expressed honest sentiments when trying to give a little moral support to Anderson. Although he had a fairly solid partial season when given 200 at-bats in 2002, hitting .285, with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs, those numbers didn't immediately equate to greatness over the course of a 162-game run.
In 2003, Crede's first year as a starter, he hit .261 with 19 home runs and 75 RBIs. That effort was followed by a .239 average, 21 home runs and 69 RBIs in 2004, and after hitting .103 in August 2005, Crede approached the final month of the White Sox championship season with a .232 average.
But a stint on the disabled list from Aug. 26 to Sept. 10, due to a fractured right middle finger suffered when he was hit by a Jesse Crain pitch while trying to bunt in Minnesota, actually changed Crede's career for the better. He worked on improving the mechanics of his swing and approach and eventually found a comfort level at the plate.
A .379 average in September included a walk-off home run against Cleveland's David Riske on Sept. 20 that kept the White Sox safely ahead in the American League Central. That hot streak led to a .368 average during the AL Championship Series and a .294 mark in the World Series, with four home runs and 10 RBIs combined over 36 at-bats.
Since these heroic moments, Crede has played at an All-Star level. When manager Ozzie Guillen was unable to find a way to work Crede on to the 2006 AL team for the Midsummer Classic, he offered to stay home and let Crede take his place in Pittsburgh.
The .283 average with 30 home runs and 94 RBIs in 2006, despite finishing 3-for-40 while battling a balky back in his last 13 games, makes Crede's struggles seem like a problem of the very distant past. His development also is sufficient reward for the team's patience.
"When you are trying to contend, patience is the hardest for the fan to understand," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "It's hard for the media to understand and hard on us, too. We want it now, everybody does. But it's not very often it happens this way."
"It's not just Joe," added White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of Crede's gradual development. "I tell people all the time, when they asked me about Brian, 'Don't forget Aaron Rowand was a pretty good player he replaced who got sent down to Triple-A. He didn't hit the ground running.'"
Walker points to the manner in which Crede has been ripping the ball during Spring Training, to the tune of a .392 average, adds in the facts that he has "rock-solid mechanics" and that Crede is as "strong as an ox," and Walker sees no reason why his third baseman can't take his offense to an even higher level.
The stellar defense has been there from the beginning, even when Crede might go five or six games searching for a hit, and stew a little bit over the lack of success. Josh Fields, Crede's highly talented understudy who will start the season as Triple-A Charlotte's third baseman, often marvels at the plays Crede is able to make. Fields learns as much from watching Crede's success as Anderson has learned from his past struggles.
"People ask me quite a bit, 'Do you get frustrated being behind him?'" said Fields of Crede. "But what has kept my head up is I get to learn behind the guy that should have won a Gold Glove last year.
"He makes plays out there, and someone will ask, 'Do you make that play?' And I'm like, 'Not now,'" added Fields with a laugh. "Give me some years down the line and we'll even see then. I won't give you a guarantee, but working behind him and learning from him only will help me down the line."
Fields also dispels the rumor that Crede is a quiet Midwesterner, describing him as "really, really funny" with "a big personality." Crede laughs at such an assessment, talking about staying on an even keel as an important part of battling through the tough times.
That part of Crede's development came through on-the-job training.
"The biggest thing for the young guys is to learn to deal with failure before you learn to succeed in this game," Crede said. "If you are out there snapping all the time, it sticks in the back of your head -- 'I snapped here yesterday' -- and you start instilling in your head that you are struggling, and you really aren't struggling.
"Whenever you are up there struggling, you have to take a step back, take a breather and know what you are doing wrong. That's where the patience part comes into it. It's hard for people to realize what they need to accomplish."
Just ask Anderson, who is learning through personal experience, with a friendly reminder from a teammate who has become a burgeoning AL superstar.
"Joe just walks up there and looks like he has no clue, lackadaisical in the box, really loose," said Anderson of what impresses him about Crede. "All of a sudden, he kills the ball over the center-field wall or hits it 450 feet. It's awesome to watch."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.