Ceiling still high for Crawford
All-Star, stolen-base leader continues development
ST. PETERSBURG -- Watching Carl Crawford on a daily basis, one wonders how much better this extraordinary talent can get.
Set to begin his sixth Major League season, the 25-year-old Crawford needs 194 hits to reach 1,000 for his career. Only six other players in Major League history have reached his totals for home runs (18) and stolen bases (58) in one season. He accomplished those numbers last season. In addition, Crawford led the American League last season in stolen bases and triples and was sixth in batting with runners in scoring position.
Nice numbers, yes, but Crawford is far from content.
"I always want to try and outdo the previous year," Crawford said. "But you just never know how that's going to turn out. For me, it's just come ready to play every game [and] try to focus on every at-bat. And do the same thing when I'm on defense: try to maintain the focus all season and see how everything plays out."
As well as Crawford has played, it's almost scary to think that he's not close to the plateau his potential indicates that he could reach.
"I don't know how much better he can get," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But I know he's driven. ... As a baseball player, I think he's got a ways to go, and he'd be the first to tell you that. The home runs should keep coming up, [and the] stolen bases will hopefully stay the same, if not more based on how much he beats himself up. Defensively, you're going to see him get even better than he is."
Crawford always seems to be in a good mood. Having been around since 2002, he is looking forward to seeing what the Rays will be like in 2007.
"You know we've got so many question marks coming into the season," Crawford said. "You just want to see how it's going to shape up. That's what I'm looking forward to."
One thing is for certain, the Rays' outfield -- with Crawford in left, Rocco Baldelli in center and Delmon Young in right -- is one of the best in baseball. Crawford doesn't seem comfortable with the hype.
"Hopefully, we can live up to those expectations everybody has for us," Crawford said. "Hopefully, we can reach that potential."
Despite his youth, Crawford is one of the Rays' veterans, and he has grown into one of the team leaders. Crawford shrugged his shoulders when asked if becoming one of the leaders will place undue pressure on his shoulders.
"[There is] no pressure for me because I don't ever change anything I do," Crawford said. "[It] seems like I've had everything thrown at me to this point, so if I get surprised by something this year, it will surprise me. But for everything they want me to do this year, I don't feel any pressure. I'll just go out there and play like I do every year and try not to do anything different."
Part of Crawford's Major League education has been learning how to take care of his body, which is why the hard-working youngster did what comes hardest for him after the 2006 season.
"I rested my whole body this offseason," Crawford said. "That was a key thing this offseason. I made sure I got that in, so I'm feeling good."
A 162-game season can take a toll on the most athletic of bodies even when a player does everything right in the way of conditioning and nutrition. Crawford takes care of himself, but he has had a problem with his left wrist. He first encountered soreness during the last week of the 2005 season, when he had to miss most of the remaining games. Last year, the wrist continued to bother him, but he played on. Now he knows the soreness stems from tendinitis, and it's something he just has to deal with.
"I think I have a tendency to overwork [the wrist] sometimes," Crawford said. "I irritate it now and then, but I've learned how to work it here and there. Basically this whole season, I'm going to pick and choose the times when I want to work it out. Nobody likes getting weak."
Crawford will probably cut back on some of the weight lifting he does during the season. But he laughs when the prospect of cutting back on his swings is mentioned: "Cut back on my swings, [and] I won't get no hits."
While Crawford did relax during the offseason, he again went through the intensive training program he has done the last couple of years prior to Spring Training. This year, the speedy Crawford focused on running the proper way.
"Running with form," Crawford said. "If you just take off and run, don't run with form, it kind of slows you down. So I've just been kind of focusing on trying to run the proper way."
Could the AL's stolen-base king actually be faster in 2007?
"I don't know," Crawford said, laughing. "Maybe we'll have to get one of these fast guys out there and see."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.