For just a moment, can we all take a deep breath? Can we all take a step back from the J.P. Crawford hot takes and just breathe?
The knee-jerk reactions are understood. John Manuel’s evaluation of the Phillies’ hands-down top prospect coming into the season was tough to hear. But just because you, as a fan, don’t want to hear it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
I’ve spent a lot of time pontificating about Manuel’s assertion on Jim Salisbury’s podcast that Crawford is no longer “an impact player.” I expressed some of those thoughts on Twitter the other night which led to some interesting discussions.
I understand the need to react in a negative tone to news like this from a trusted baseball outlet like Baseball America. It’s no fun to hear bad news on the player in the farm system who most closely resembled as sure a thing to big league stud as we’ve seen in quite some time.
In the time since the comments have come to light, I’ve seen two schools of thought as a reply. First is the flat out denial and believing that Manuel is simply talking out the wrong end of his body.
Second, is the defense of Crawford, pointing to the recent numbers which suggest he’s coming out of the funk he’s been mired in since he was promoted to Lehigh Valley. That’s the camp Phillies Director of Player Development Joe Jordan is in. During his trip to Williamsport last week, he had this to say about his concern over Crawford’s struggles: “I think there would be (concern) if he hadn’t hit .280 or .290 over the last 20 or so games. I think he is coming out of this. He hit a ball last night to the left-center gap that would have been out at Citizens Bank opposite field and the guy caught it at the wall at that big park in Scranton.
“J.P.’s coming along. It’s been a struggle for him. We’ve struggled with figuring out what we could do to get him back on track. It took longer than we thought it would. But I do believe he’s in a pretty good place right now that he feels good about. He’s going to hopefully finish out with a good weekend, then have the All-Star break, and have a good two months after the All-Star break.”
Then there’s the third camp, a small group of people who absolutely agree with Manuel’s assertion that J.P. Crawford is no longer an impact player. Mostly, those feelings come from other evaluators who have seen him play and have been disappointed by a clear regression in his game.
My question is this: Why do all those thoughts have to be mutually exclusive? Why do you have to be in one camp or the other? Why can’t we believe both that Crawford has regressed and is no longer the impact prospect we thought he was while still believing that impact player is within him and can come to fruition again?
I don’t think it’s unfair to say Crawford was walking the fine line of the definition of an impact player or an elite prospect prior to this season. Even as a consensus Top-20 prospect in all of baseball, if not a Top-10, it was easy to see how even a small regression in his production could make something like this happen.
But now you’re talking about more than a season’s worth of at-bats in AAA where Crawford hasn’t lived up to the production he put out through his time at Class A Clearwater. And I believe, whether right or wrong, that production matters as a player reaches AA and AAA. By no means do I think it’s the be-all, end-all of evaluation, but I believe it matters.
What was disturbing to me, though, was that ESPN’s Keith Law, who has long been a proponent of Crawford and his ability as a future impact player, seemed to agree with Manuel’s assertion.
“I heard unanimous downgrades on his defense at short, and multiple scouts say he’s swinging for the fences too much and becoming much less disciplined at the plate. I’m alarmed, and I’ve been a big fan of his since high school,” Law wrote in one of his recent chats.
To me, the most concerning aspect of the evaluations has been the downgrades in his defense. I’ve always believed he was going to be a well above average defensive player, and that might not being a good enough description of how good he is or was. But throughout Crawford’s entire career, fans have been able to hang their hat on two things with Crawford: Plus defense and the ability to get on base at a superior level.
I couldn’t care less about error totals in the minor leagues. Having been around the official scorers that I have been, I know how flukey some of those errors can be. So when scouting evaluations of his defense are being downgraded, to me that’s a concern because it means he’s no longer doing the things which made him such a special prospect in the first place.
On top of it, while not bad, his on-base percentage in his two stints at Lehigh Valley (.328 in 2016 and .330 this year) are both far below his minor league career mark of .366. Again, it’s another concerning number. And it’s the combination of those two things which have me concerned and understanding why Manuel and his co-workers at Baseball America would downgrade the 22-year-old Crawford as much as they did.
Now on the flip side of all that, I can’t take seriously the results of 164 games in AAA and at the same time totally dismiss the other 319 games and the other 1,400 plate appearances. I don’t believe what Crawford did as he marched through the Phillies minor league system and to the top of prospect rankings was done with smoke and mirrors.
I still believe inside him is a player who can hit .270-.280 and post that kind of ridiculous on-base percentage which could make him a mainstay at the top of the Phillies lineup for a long time. I still believe the skill set to be a fantastic defender is within him. Short of coming up with Mackey Sasser disease and forgetting how to throw the baseball, that ability to play defense at a premier position is still part of him.
He’s returned to the kind of offensive player we thought he was over the last three or four weeks. Over his last 22 games entering Friday’s game, Crawford has slashed .280/.379/.573 with only a .295 BABIP. In that time he’s hit five home runs and 12 of his 23 hits are for extra bases.
That is the J.P. Crawford we have come to know, and that is the J.P. Crawford we have come to believe will be a cornerstone piece of the next Phillies winner. So I ask just one more time, can well just take a step back and take a deep breath?
It’s perfectly OK to think John Manuel is wrong here. It’s perfectly OK to think that he’s right. And it’s also perfectly to think there’s a return to glory coming for a player who is still only 22-years-old. And it’s perfectly OK to think all those things at the same time.