- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

FORT WORTH, Texas | Aaron Crow didn’t have to be here, playing on a sun-baked field and pitching to hitters whose names he probably won’t remember a month after he leaves.

He could have said yes to the Washington Nationals’ final offer last summer and been working his way through the minors - perhaps even making his major league debut - instead of idling most of last summer and making just three starts for the independent Fort Worth Cats this spring.

But the Fort Worth stopover has been used to great effect by draft picks who didn’t sign and re-entered the MLB draft a year later. And it looks like Crow will be the latest to cash in.

The former University of Missouri right-hander, whom the Nationals took ninth in last year’s draft but didn’t sign by the Aug. 15 deadline, is projected to go in the top five this year and could be chosen as high as second.

Crow’s agent, Randy Hendricks, made a final demand of $4.4 million in August; Crow could get that this year - and possibly the major league contract the Nationals waffled on handing him.

“I think it’s worked out exactly as I hoped it would,” Crow said. “I had a lot of time in the offseason. I think it’s paid off. I feel great right now, and hopefully everything works out the way I hope it does.”

Hendricks suggested the Cats as a possibility last summer; both the Royals’ Luke Hochevar and the Diamondbacks’ Max Scherzer pitched there before joining a major league organization.

Crow pitched just three innings of relief for the Cats last year and made three starts this year but posted a 1.06 ERA and struck out 17 in 17 innings. His fastball dipped slightly from last year, topping out around 94 mph instead of the 96 he was throwing around draft time last year. But Crow said he has slowed his change-up to about 82 mph, making both pitches more effective.

The arrangement put Crow on a team that has dealt with high-profile draft picks, plays in a wood-bat league that includes some former major leaguers and routinely leads the American Association in attendance. Even better for Crow: The capacity crowds included dozens of scouts each time.

When he pitched for the Cats on May 20, there were more than 10 teams there to watch him, including three general managers with picks in the top six (Seattle’s Jack Zduriencik, San Diego’s Kevin Towers and San Francisco’s Brian Sabean).

The Nationals also have been scouting Crow, and acting general manager Mike Rizzo said last month the team made a request for Crow to sign a waiver that would allow Washington to pick him again.

But one team official said the Nationals don’t believe Crow will be there for their second first-round pick (No. 10 overall), and late last month Crow wouldn’t say whether he would let the Nationals draft him a second time.

“We’ll see,” Crow said.

Odds are it won’t matter Tuesday. Crow likely will be on his way as a higher draft pick than last year, and his decision to spurn the Nationals will have worked out.

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