SAN JOSE -- The first thing you notice about Kyle Crick is how quickly he works.
At times, he'll wait just five seconds between getting the ball back from his catcher and starting his windup, a process that might be even faster if Crick didn't have to wait for opposing hitters to step back into the box.
The fourth inning of his final regular season start on August 29 lasted just four minutes, and Crick cut that to three and a half minutes while pitching a perfect fifth. He was even quicker in the sixth, needing just two and a half minutes to get a fly out, strikeout and grounder to second.
"I like to get out there and get after it," Crick said. "I like to stay at the same pace, the same tempo. I think it helps me throw more strikes."
The Giants are hopeful that Crick, who doesn't turn 21 until November, stays on this pace all the way to the major leagues. The 49th overall pick in the 2011 draft had a 1.57 ERA in 14 regular season starts for the High-A San Jose Giants this season, striking out 95 batters in 68ï»¿2/3 innings. Crick averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his first two minor league seasons and upped that to 12.5 this season while also increasing his strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.44).
"He's got big league stuff right now," San Jose pitching coach Mike Couchee said. "He's a big, strong kid and he has stuff that would play anywhere right now. It's just a matter of harnessing it a little bit and getting him a little more efficient in the strike zone. If he does that, he can move very, very fast."
Crick has the kind of pedigree that has come through San Jose before. He is similar in size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and background (drafted out of high school) to Matt Cain, who put up similar numbers in San Jose nine years ago. Cain had a 1.86 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 13 starts for San Jose as a 19-year-old, and Crick lists the two-time champion as one of the current big league pitchers he has watched closely, along with Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw.
Those around Crick are hesitant to set a timetable for his arrival, and assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Crick has work to do after missing two months early in the season with an oblique injury. The Giants are sending Crick to the Arizona Fall League in part because he is nowhere near reaching his 2012 total of 111ï»¿1/3 innings.
"I think there's an innings deficit that hurts him a bit," Evans said. "He missed out on a lot of innings because of the injury, but we'll get him additional work. He'll face some pretty good competition, too."
Crick said he's looking forward to seeing some of the game's best prospects, a group he has joined. In Crick, scouts see a budding top-of-the-rotation starter, and the timing couldn't be better for the Giants. Cain and Madison Bumgarner are the only pitchers locked into the long-term rotation, but pitchers like Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach and Edwin Escobar lead a wave headed for San Francisco.
The Giants prospect lists next spring will be littered with starting pitchers, and Crick leads the way. He was the organization's top prospect this spring according to Baseball America and ESPN's Keith Law, and was ranked 37th in baseball in Law's midseason rankings despite missing most of the first half.
"He's a tremendous talent and he's really learning the art of pitching," San Jose manager Andy Skeels said. "You're always looking for progression and he's done a nice job of developing this year. I think anytime a pitcher misses a period of time, you're curious to see how he bounces back, and he did a really nice job."
Skeels has been most impressed with the work Crick has done in subtle areas, adjusting his routine between starts, throwing more first pitch strikes and improving at holding runners. The best sign may be the development of a changeup that regularly touched 87-88 mph in his final regular season start, complementing a fastball that has hit 98 mph.
"I don't even know if I really had (a changeup) at the very beginning of the year," Crick said. "To actually throw it for strikes and dominate with it is a pretty good feeling."
Crick was speaking an hour after walking off the mound with 11 strikeouts and his first zero-walk line of the year, another positive sign for a pitcher who also can dominate with a curveball and slider. Crick walked 39 in those 14 regular season starts, but Couchee believes it's an issue that will go away as Crick advances.
"That's one of the discussions we have, that you can pitch at 95 instead of having to throw 97-98," Couchee said. "The 95 mph fastball will play at any level with command, and that's been a big focus of what we're trying to do. It's a balance right now, but there's no doubting the arm."