Canadian Crouse hopes to shine in Toronto
Outfielder helped Baseball Canada to gold in Pan Am Games
TORONTO -- Baseball Canada's roster at the recent Pan American Games in Mexico had a distinctly Toronto feel to it.
Five players on the gold-medal-winning team spent time in the Blue Jays' system. One of those players, who likely flew under the radar for most fans north of the border, was outfielder Michael Crouse.
The five-tool prospect was the youngest player on the national team, which won the top prize for the first time in the senior program's history.
"Any time you get to play for your national team, it's a great experience," Crouse said. "To be on a team, to actually be on the first Canadian team to win a gold medal, it was one of the best experiences I've had in baseball.
"I was able to get quite a bit of playing time. My role on that team was to just come in, get some defensive innings and when I got some [at-bats], battle, get on base and score some runs."
Crouse's time with Baseball Canada followed a successful year at Class A Lansing. Under the tutelage of first-year manager Mike Redmond, Crouse hit .261 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs while establishing himself as an everyday player in right field.
The 20-year-old also managed to post 26 doubles and five triples en route to the Lugnuts' second-place finish in the Midwest League.
"I think my season went great," Crouse said. "I helped my team get to the championship, I reached some of the goals that I set out at the beginning of the year, and basically that's what I want to do every year -- set up some goals and reach them.
"I wanted to get to low A, stay healthy for most of the year, win a championship -- almost got there -- and steal some bags, put up some RBIs and runs."
Crouse was raised in a family that put a lot of its attention on sports. His father, Ray, spent time in both the National Football League and Canadian Football League with four different teams.
There was a time when Crouse thought about taking a similar career path, but when high school rolled around, the choice became obvious. The baseball season was becoming longer each year and ultimately forced his hand to pick between the two sports.
The native of Port Moody, British Columbia, gave up football to put all of his attention on baseball. The move appeared to pay off when he was selected by Toronto in the 16th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Crouse chose the Minor Leagues over going to school and made his debut later that year in the Gulf Coast League. The 6-foot-4 outfielder continued to mature, and even as his frame got bigger, the speed of someone much smaller remained intact.
The art of stealing bases is a skill set he continues to try to master. Learning how to pick up on cues from the pitcher, catcher and infielders are all part of the process, but the results were there in Lansing.
Crouse managed to lead the team with 38 stolen bases while being caught just eight times.
"I've had speed ever since I was young," Crouse said. "Growing up I was always told, 'You've got a major asset there that you need to keep.' So I've learned how to work out and keep my speed, because I think it's one of the most important tools in this game.
"You see a lot more of a speed game coming back to baseball, and I want to keep that going. It has to be a big part of my game."
The rest of his offense remains a work in progress, as is the case with just about any other 20-year-old competing in low Class A ball. The biggest challenge has been improving his discipline at the plate.
Most of his stats saw a jump this season, and similar results can be expected as he continues to develop. He likely will move up to Class A Dunedin in 2012, which means his work with Redmond could be over -- but the influence will stay with him.
"It was great working for Redmond," Crouse said of the former Major League catcher, who retired as a player in 2010. "I think that's part of the reason why I had such a fun year and our team was so close.
"I guess you could say he was a players' coach, and he just made the environment in the clubhouse so loose. But at the same time, [he] made us work. So to play for a guy like that, it was very easy to come to the clubhouse every day. If you make a mistake, he tells you, and he expects you to do it right the next time. It was a great experience."
Crouse was drafted as a center fielder but appears destined to get most of his work in right field. His abilities at the plate, combined with speed on the basepaths and versatility in the outfield, make him a player to watch in Toronto's system the next few years.
The work officially resumes in March when Minor League camp opens, but Crouse said it will be his approach in the offseason that will dictate what level he plays at next year and what type of results can be expected.
"The offseason is one of the most important parts of how you're going to succeed," Crouse said. "To get my body right and to get stronger, faster, this offseason is the biggest step for that.
"Once I get into Spring Training, have a good spring, work on some stuff, stay healthy and just produce and help my team win, hopefully from there, everything will take over."