In the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft Thursday, the Oakland Athletics used the 58th pick to select junior right-hander Jeff Criswell.
In Criswell, the Athletics gain a pitcher who is a proven reliever and starter at the collegiate level. Criswell established himself as a reliever in his freshman season, posting a 2.23 earned-run average while striking out 32 batters in 32.1 innings of work, before transitioning to the starting rotation prior to the 2019 season.
The six-foot-four right-hander from Portage, Michigan accrued a 7-1 record as a starter, improving with each outing, en route to an All-Big Ten First Team selection. In the midst of the Wolverines’ postseason run last season, Bakich retained the confidence to stick Criswell back in the bullpen, and Criswell showed no letdown after a year away from being a reliever, proving his versatility.
It is likely, though, that Criswell’s development over his three years in Ann Arbor leads to the Athletics viewing him as a starting pitching prospect.
“He was very valuable for us last year,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said in a press conference before the 2020 season. “He has gone from being maybe more of a thrower as a freshman, to a true pitcher with three-plus pitches, to a guy who’s regarded as one of the best amongst his peers. We’re glad to have him, and we’re sure glad he’s pitching for us on Fridays.”
Criswell’s stature provides him with the prototypical size that MLB organizations look for in potential workhorse-type arms, and his ability to hold his mid-90’s fastball velocity into the later innings suggests his strength matches his size.
The right-hander throws a steadily improving changeup and slider along with his plus fastball, but his greatest asset, perhaps, lies in his head rather than his arm. Despite his extensive physical development, Criswell is most proud of the significant progress he has made in his mental game while playing for Michigan by staying cool in high-pressure situations.
“Just being able to recognize where you’re at in the game and having that self-awareness is really important,” Criswell told The Daily after the season. “And it’s a very big help for me.”
Regardless of whether the Athletics decide to develop Criswell as a starter or a reliever, they will certainly be counting on him to use the same composure that allowed him to post a 2.88 career ERA with the Wolverines in order to pitch out of jams against professional hitters.