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Crabbe writes strong finish with AFL opportunity

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After nearly three and a half seasons of professional baseball, Reds right-handed starter Tim Crabbe finally reached Double-A Pensacola midway through his 2012 campaign.

Before the promotion, the 24-year-old dominated Class A Advanced Bakersfield to the tune of a 3.28 ERA, with 60 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings.

But once Crabbe began to face elevated competition in the Southern League, things started to unravel a bit. Admittedly, he lost a lot of the command that made him hard to hit, making his high 80s, low 90s fastball easy prey for opposing batters.

The end result wasn't pretty. Crabbe finished his Double-A stint with a 4.90 ERA in 86 1/3 innings while walking 66.

"There's no doubt I was struggling," Crabbe said. "Throwing strikes was a huge problem for me, it was frustrating."

Not wanting to end his 2012 campaign on such a sour note, Crabbe received what he called an "unbelievable opportunity" when the Reds gave him the chance to head to Arizona for extended work in the prestigious Fall League.

One of seven Cincinnati prospects who played for the AFL-champion Peoria Javelinas, Crabbe made the most of his fresh start, earning the win in the league's championship game on Saturday.

"It was definitely nice to have a little more of a season to feel like I can correct some of those things that hurt me in Double-A," Crabbe said. "I was definitely excited, it's a great honor to be here."

Before the postseason, Crabbe tied for the league lead in fewest hits allowed by a starter, with 14 in 16 innings. The right-hander credited much of his turnaround to the seemingly simple adjustment of attacking hitters in the zone instead of shying away.

"That's always the biggest key, especially for me, to go after hitters with strikes and work that way," he said. "To make sure I can control not only the fastball, but the secondary pitches as well while using them all effectively."

In all, the righty finished his time in Arizona allowing nine earned runs in 19 innings, while striking out 11.

The Arizona native said the competition, which featured some of the best farm hands in all of baseball, was a step up for him, but it made him better in the process.

"These guys are the best of the best, so guys are making plays behind you, plus you're getting challenged with the guys you're facing as well," he said. "It's been fun, but also a challenge. I feel really good right now, fortunately enough."

Reds hitters in the Fall League

Billy Hamilton was one of the Fall League's bigger attractions this year. The 22-year-old speedster, who broke records by stealing 155 bases this season in Bakersfield and Pensacola, took 10 bags in 17 games in Arizona. Ranked No. 1 by on the Reds' Top 20 Prospects list, Hamilton had a .306 on-base percentage in 64 at-bats in Arizona, with 11 runs and nine RBIs. Named a Fall League rising star, Hamilton also roamed the outfield well for his Peoria team. He went 2-for-5 with a triple in the AFL championship game, during which he exited with back spasms after slamming into the center-field wall while chasing down a fly ball.

Didi Gregorius isn't much further back on the Reds' Top 20 Prospects list, ranked No. 5. The 22-year-old shortstop flourished in the Southern League before earning a midseason promotion to Triple-A Louisville, where he struggled a bit in 48 games, batting just .243. A September callup to Cincinnati, Gregorius picked it up a bit in Arizona in 74 at-bats, batting .284 with a .333 on-base percentage and 12 runs scored.

Travis Mattair spent his entire 2012 campaign in Bakersfield, batting .274 in 126 games with 31 doubles, 19 homers and 82 RBIs. Against higher competition in Arizona, the 23-year-old's numbers fell back, hitting just .188 in 32 at-bats.

Reds pitchers in the Fall League

Drew Hayes went to Arizona fresh off a successful season in Double-A, posting a 3.41 ERA in 63 1/3 innings as a relief pitcher for Pensacola. In 14 innings in the Fall League, the 25-year-old right-hander allowed seven earned runs while striking out 11.

Curtis Partch began his 2012 campaign in Bakersfield, but after dominating that level, he was promoted to Pensacola, where he came back down to earth with a 4.73 ERA in 70 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed five earned runs in 12 2/3 innings in Arizona out of the bullpen.

Josh Ravin struggled in the Fall League, allowing eight runs on 10 hits in 10 1/3 relief innings to date. The 24-year-old only threw 27 innings in his regular season, so he was in Arizona to make up for lost time.

Cincinnati Reds, Tim Crabbe, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton, Drew Hayes, Travis Mattair, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin