Former Mallards Pitcher Crawford Credits Hard Work and the NWL

West Michigan righty refined mechanics in college summer league

Jonathon Crawford is 1-1 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts for West Michigan. (Emily Jones/

Jonathon Crawford wasn't getting much attention from colleges while pitching in Florida for Okeechobee High School.

"My junior year, I was hitting 92 miles an hour," Crawford said. "I just wasn't really playing well when scouts were at the game. I guess that put me under everybody's radar."

Crawford decided to give destiny a push. He paid $15 to attend a baseball showcase. His fastball was on, he had command and the Florida Gators' baseball staff took notice.

Now the Midwest League is paying plenty of attention to Crawford as he dominates for West Michigan. After an Opening Day struggle in freezing temperatures, Crawford has been stellar. He has a 0.84 ERA in six games over 32 1/3 innings since that first outing.

Taken in the first round (No. 20 overall) of the 2013 Draft by the Detroit Tigers, Crawford, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, was the highest selection of a Gators pitcher since 1991.

Although he could light up radar guns at 92 mph, he wasn't a blazing success at Florida early in his career. In fact, he wasn't on the Gators' College World Series roster his freshman season. His delivery had been changed, and he was given directions to the Northwoods League to work on improving his mechanics.

Crawford's hard work in the summer collegiate circuit paid off — he refined a delivery that moved his hand away from his head more, turning an over-the-top arm slot into a more natural three-quarters.

"That helped me a lot," Crawford said of the change. "That made it 100 times easier to stay down in the zone, and then I started throwing more strikes. The ball felt great coming out of my hand."

Crawford went on to make NCAA news when he threw a no-hitter in the 2012 Regional against Bethune-Cookman. It was only the seventh no-hitter in a Division I tournament game and the first since John Burke accomplished the feat in 1991. After a standout junior season, Crawford was drafted by the Tigers.

"It's a matter of hard work," Crawford said of his success. "I've always loved playing baseball, and I've always known it's what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I just go out, work hard and have fun."

West Michigan pitching coach Mike Henneman agreed that Crawford's work ethic sets him apart.

"Jonathon's a hard worker, and he's eager to learn," Henneman said. "I want him to be more consistent. He knows it. There's no reason in the world why I would see anything different from him. He's mature. He's been around. He was in college. He'll be fine."

Crawford is hitting 96 mph on the radar gun now and mowing down Midwest League batters. He said that playing rugged Southeastern Conference competition has helped him in Class A baseball.

"In my opinion, the SEC is the best conference," Crawford said. "The hitters are always really tough. Playing in that conference for three years definitely prepared me for pro ball."