BRADENTON, Fla. -- Four years ago, 21-year-old Kyle Crick reported to his first big league Spring Training camp with the Giants. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: George Kontos.A few weeks ago, 25-year-old Crick reported to his first Spring Training camp with the Pirates. Beside him, in the neighboring locker:
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Four years ago, 21-year-old Kyle Crick reported to his first big league Spring Training camp with the Giants. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: George Kontos.
A few weeks ago, 25-year-old Crick reported to his first Spring Training camp with the Pirates. Beside him, in the neighboring locker: Kontos.
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"Not much has changed," Crick said, smiling.
Well, much has changed. The right-hander is no longer a highly touted starting-pitching prospect. He's a hard-throwing reliever with 30 games of Major League experience. And as part of Pittsburgh's return for Andrew McCutchen, Crick has made the change from black and orange to black and gold.
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The news came as a surprise at first, Crick said. After working out on the morning of Jan. 15, he noticed a missed call from Giants general manager Bobby Evans. They'd spoken the week before, so that struck him as odd. When Crick called back, Evans said he was deep into trade talks with the Pirates and Crick was involved.
Evans didn't initially say who was on the other side of the deal, though. That news was also a surprise.
"I think if there's someone you want to be traded for, it's probably Cutch," Crick said. "I was excited. I'm sure [outfield prospect Bryan] Reynolds was as well, just to be in the same talks as Cutch. As soon as I found out it was for Cutch, it was all good from there.
"It's a great atmosphere here. It's a lot of young dudes. It's a lot of youth. That's good, man. Everyone's got high energy. Everyone's strong. That's nice."
Now, Crick can crack Pittsburgh's Opening Day bullpen. The Pirates view him as a potential setup man for closer Felipe Rivero, but it's possible he could begin the season as a more versatile reliever capable of pitching multiple innings.
"Kyle's got an explosive fastball. The breaking ball can gets swings and misses. So there's two weapons to work out of a Major League bullpen," GM Neal Huntington said. "Build on the success that he had a year ago, come in here and compete to make our club."
Crick's path to this point wasn't entirely linear, as he struggled with his command and stalled out for three years at Double-A Richmond. Five years after the Giants made him the 49th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, Crick's confidence was shaken.
Last spring, Crick entered camp as a full-time reliever and heard from Evans that he had a legitimate chance to help the Giants' bullpen. He finally moved up to Triple-A, where he totaled 39 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings and averaged a career-best four walks per nine innings. His confidence returned.
"Baseball was more fun in Triple-A because I was out of Double-A, finally," he said. "I was out of the hole."
The Giants called up Crick in late June and never sent him back down. He trusted his stuff on the mound -- including a fastball that averaged 95.5 mph, according to Statcast™ -- and Buster Posey behind the plate. Overall, Crick posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 32 1/3 innings over 30 appearances.
But with an opportunity to take on a greater role in the bullpen, Crick is welcoming the change of scenery.
"It's a clean slate. I think that'll be nice," Crick said. "Nobody knows anyone's history here. Nobody knows what I did in High [Class] A or Double-A or my '16 struggles. That's fine. All that's in the past, anyway. Just kind of building for the present and future now."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.