Garrett Crochet suffered a broken jaw after he was hit in the face by a line drive in Tennessee’s final regular-season series against Ole Miss last season. The left-handed pitcher managed to return two weeks later to pitch in the Volunteers’ second game of the NCAA tournament against University of North Carolina Wilmington.
It was a quick turnaround, but Crochet thrived in his return to the mound. He went 2 1/3 innings and picked up the win to secure the Volunteers’ first tournament victory since 2005.
Coming out of Ocean Springs High in Mississippi as a senior in 2017, Crochet could have bypassed college baseball and embarked on a professional career. He was the state of Mississippi’s top pitching prospect that year but signability concerns caused him to fall to the Milwaukee Brewers in the 34th round.
Crochet didn’t believe he was ready for pro ball as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school and wanted to attend college in hopes of maturing mentally and physically, he said. Now three years later, Crochet is once again a well-regarded draft prospect. He is one of college baseball’s top pitchers and is projected to be a first-round pick in June’s draft. He even could be a top-10 pick if he has a strong spring.
“I would say it takes pressure off me in the end because I know the draft is just an opportunity, and at the end of the day, I’m not really worried about specific things, like money or what round or what pick,” said Crochet on going through the draft process for a second time. “I am just worried about performing well for my team.”
Crochet has bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen in his first two years. As a freshman in 2018, Crochet posted a 5.51 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 26 walks allowed in 63 2/3 innings. He experienced slightly better results last year when he notched a 4.02 ERA, 81 strikeouts and 22 walks allowed in 65 innings.
Crochet excelled during practices last fall, as he saw an uptick in fastball velocity and stronger command of his secondary pitches. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound left-hander will serve as Tennessee’s No. 1 starter this spring. He throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball from a repeatable delivery that allows him to throw strikes with ease.
Crochet sat in the mid-90s with his fastballs last season but was throwing 96-100 mph during the fall. He throws his four-seamer slightly more than his two-seam fastball but plans on mixing in his two-seamer more this spring to keep hitters off balanced, he said.
He believes his slider is his best off-speed offering and serves as his outpitch. He doesn’t throw his curveball often, as he occasionally mixes it in to change the eye level of hitters.
“My biggest strength is my competitive attitude,” Crochet said. “I don’t like to lose, and I don’t plan on losing a heck of a lot at all this year. I definitely think that’s one of my strong suits.”
Crochet flashes solid changeups at times and focused this offseason on refining the pitch. He’s focused on developing more consistency with his changeup this spring.
“My changeup is still developing, but it has come a long way from where it was a year ago,” Crochet said. “I don’t lack feel or confidence with it. Really right now, it’s just the consistency of it with locating it.”
Tennessee posted a 40-21 record and qualified for a NCAA Regional last year. It was the Volunteers’ highest win total since 2005 when they won 46 games and advanced to the College World Series.
With this season likely to be Crochet’s last at Tennessee, he hopes he can lead the Volunteers back to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year.
“I really want to leave this place with a winning tradition,” Crochet said. “I feel like when I came in here, there wasn’t really a winning tradition established or at least to my eyes. When I leave here, I want to look back and see that me and my teammates really built something for the future guys to come into and help make it feel like a program that is respectable.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.