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March 22, 2004

Let The Kid Play

By Mark Rubin

Crosby Hit An Inside The Park Grand Slam Tuesday
Crosby Hit An Inside The Park Grand Slam Tuesday

The above headline may be misleading, really, by no means is the player in question a "kid." A 27-year-old professional baseball player that is currently tearing up Yankees' Spring Training camp doesn't really sound like a "kid," does it? But Bubba Crosby is getting about the same level of respect as a kid would. Despite the fact that he's having a huge spring, he has little to no chance of getting a real shot with the Yankees. And that's a shame.

You may have read the headlines around Yankeeland today but, in case you haven't, I'll summarize: "Crosby Slams Yankees To Victory." In Tuesday's exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, Crosby hit a grand slam in the fourth inning. Not just any old grand slam, either, an inside-the-park grand slam.

And that phrase just about sums up Crosby's package. He is an excellent blend of power and speed, wholly capable of hitting 15-20 homeruns at the major-league level, and equally capable of making noise on the basepaths (he stole 27 bases in 2000 for the Vero Beach Dodgers). Crosby hits for average - he was leading the Pacific Coast League with a .361 batting average before being traded to Columbus - he doesn't strike out much and he is, by most accounts, a good fielder. He seems like he'd be the perfect fit for any team, right?

Not when that team is the Yankees, unfortunately. It's difficult to fit five players into three or four positions, and that's what Crosby would represent to the Yankees. You see, there are already a few players in the outfield in the Bronx of whom you may have heard. Players like Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton and, if you're from Japan you can't miss the next one, Hideki Matsui. And if you're a lowly career minor-leaguer, well, there's simply no room.

But the Yankees should consider making room. At the moment, Sheffield has a problem with his thumb that he's planning on playing through. Williams is returning from an appendectomy and may need time to recover. Potential backup outfielder/DH/first baseman Travis Lee will start the season on the DL with a shoulder injury. There is definitely room for a reserve outfielder on the team, but Rotoworld is reporting that the Yankees are leaning toward Darren Bragg for their backup?

Seems ludicrous to me. Bragg, a former Yankee for all of five games and four at bats, isn't anyone's idea of an impact player. He's got some speed - if you call 55 career stolen bases "speed" - but he's a career .258 hitter and he's 34 years old.

The bottom line is that there's no good reason for the Yankees to not give Crosby every opportunity to show what he can do at the major-league level. Let him start the season as the primary backup outfielder, give him a few pinch-hit at bats, let him spell Sheffield's thumb once in a while, let him do his thing. If Crosby is as good as his minor-league and spring training numbers say he is, then the Yankees have a good, cheap option on the bench for a year or two. If they don't, they can go sign some more Darren Braggs.

Sadly, this might just be a pipe dream. It's just not the Yankees' way to let the kids play, no matter how fun an inside-the-park homerun might be.