MESA, Ariz. -- Jeff Criswell had every right to feel frustrated about his 2021 season.
A second-round pick by the A’s in the 2020 MLB Draft, Criswell was confined to the club’s alternate site that was set up in San Jose, Calif., that year, limited to competition against fellow A’s prospects. When it finally came time to play actual Minor League games in 2021, the right-hander made it through only five starts and 12 innings at High-A Lansing before a shoulder strain put him on the shelf for the next four months.
Two years in the organization without playing a full season is not how Criswell envisioned his professional career starting out. Yet as he prepares for the upcoming campaign in A’s Minor League Spring Training, he’s taking a positive view from all that has gone wrong in his career to this point.
“It felt like last year was something good that came out of something bad,” said Criswell. “Nobody wants to get hurt. Everybody wants to be able to play a full season healthy. But being able to face that adversity my first year, I felt like it taught me a lot about taking care of my body and learning how to do the things that need to be done every day to stay healthy.”
There was some good that came from 2021 for Criswell in that he recovered from injury in time to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched in six games and ranked among the league’s strikeout leaders with 32 punchouts in 22 2/3 innings.
“I felt like I threw well there,” Criswell said. “It was good to finish that year strong.”
With a fresh slate in 2022, Criswell is in camp focusing on correcting glitches in his delivery that may have contributed to his shoulder issues. Among the cleanup of his mechanics is trying to eliminate the “herky-jerky” movements in his windup into a more fluid motion.
“Repeatability of my delivery has been a big thing that I’ve been working on here and a big thing that I worked on in the offseason,” said Criswell. “Just being able to try to hone in that delivery and make it as repeatable and consistent as I can. When my delivery is most consistent, that’s when my stuff going to home plate is most consistent.”
That “stuff” Criswell refers to includes a power fastball that can reach up to 97 mph, along with a changeup that can miss plenty of bats and a solid slider and curveball to round out his four-pitch arsenal.
“We like his stuff,” said A’s director of player development Ed Sprague. “We still think there’s a starter-esque mix in there. If not, you can put him in the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up. For him, it’s all about the health.”
Criswell showed off his stuff as a reliever on the national stage while pitching in the College World Series for Michigan in 2019. However, he was drafted as a starter and still views himself as such, though he said he’d be open to whatever role the organization suggests is most optimal for his career.
Ultimately, like all young pitchers, his goal is to reach the big leagues as soon as possible. He certainly looked like a pitcher who could be on the fast track to the Majors coming out of college. But first comes pitching a full season, which he is hopeful to finally see come to fruition in 2022.
“It’s easy to say I want to move up the ranks and get to Oakland as quick as I can,” said Criswell. “But I think right now, I’m looking to pitch a full season. That’s step number one. Being sure I can be healthy every fifth day to start, whatever level that’s at. My number one goal is to just pitch a full season and get that under my belt.”