This piece is a companion to my J.P. Crawford major league preview on Crashburn Alley.
In a game that probably should not have been close, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs clinched a wild card berth for the International League playoffs. After the game it was announced that the Pigs would have to go on without their star shortstop, because the Phillies were finally making the big move of their rebuild and promoting J.P. Crawford to the major leagues. Crawford has been the Phillies top prospect since really the summer of 2014, and for some it was even earlier than that. He was the face of the rebuild and was supposed to be the superstar the Phillies would build their next contender around. Things haven’t gone to plan, but nevertheless Crawford will be reaching the majors with plenty of buzz at the age of 22.
Crawford’s journey in the Phillies’ system goes back to the 2013 draft. The Phillies had the 16th pick draft thanks to an incredibly disappointing 2012 season. Crawford at the time was seen as the rare high school shortstop who could stick at short. The big question was his bat, where he had good coordination, but a swing that did not inspire a lot of confidence. What no one accounted for was his batting eye. In 39 games in the GCL, Crawford hit .345/.443/.465 with 25 walks and 25 strikeouts. He would struggle some in a promotion to Lakewood, but he has already shown that his batting eye was special.
Crawford started 2014 with Lakewood where he would continue to hit and draw walks with moderate power. That summer he earned his first trip to the Futures Game. At the game he looked like he belonged while playing on a field with Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and others. I personally will always believe in his power after watching him balls out to right field at Target Field during batting practice (Target Field is notoriously poor for left handed power). Crawford went straight from the Futures Game to Clearwater where he would once again put up solid numbers, but with a bit more power and less hit.
Crawford’s 2015 season got off to a slow start due to an oblique injury, and once again he repeated his pattern of blazing through his current level before struggling at the next step. By now Crawford was firmly established as one of the top prospects in the game, but he still wasn’t hitting for power and it was clear he wasn’t a big time base runner either. This all would repeat again in 2016 with less success as Crawford would only hit .244/.328/.318 in Lehigh Valley to end the season.
Crawford’s struggles to open the 2017 season are well documented. He hit .145/.261/.184 in April, and while he would get his on base percentage up in May, his batting line when he missed a week to a groin injury starting on June 10 was .194/.313/.252. Crawford would hit better to close out June after returning to the field on June 20th, but the real turnaround wouldn’t come until July. In 27 July games, Crawford would hit .281/.389/.635 with 8 home runs. His power would tail off some in August, but entering the last game of the season (where he would go 1 for 3 with his 15th home run and a walk), Crawford hit .279/.380/.513 in the 70 games since returning from injury.
Just like the stat fluctuations, some things have always been true about Crawford, and some things have varied. He has always had an incredible batting eye and one of the best two strike approaches in the game. At times he was too passive at the plate, and in the second half of the 2017 season he did trade some walks for some strikeouts to improve his power numbers. Up until the start of the 2017 season, Crawford has always been a great defensive shortstop. He was prone to mental lapses and easy mistakes, but he had great instincts for the position and was incredibly smooth around the bag on double plays. Whether it was injury or his offensive struggles sneaking into his play on the field, he struggled some defensively to open the year. He has been better of late and he has shown off his raw tools including great range and a plus arm in some highlight worthy plays this season. Crawford has never really been a good base stealer. He has above average to plus speed, but not a great first step and while he peaked at 24 steals in 2014, he only has 5 successes in 2017.
What has changed for Crawford is his swing. When he entered pro-ball his swing was long and loopy. He shortened it up some over the years as well as messing with his hand placement (his hands kept dropping for many years) and his footwork. His footwork in particular over the years has changed dramatically and at times he has had no movement in the box, which has sapped his ability to drive the baseball. This site’s own Jeff Israel did a breakdown in late July of all of the iterations of Crawford’s swing up until his resurgence. For once it appears that Crawford has found something that works for him.
So who is the J.P. Crawford that the minors is handing off the majors? He is a player a bit unique in the game. He does not have loud tools, particularly when it comes to power and speed. As he matures, maybe there is a place where he steals 10-15 bases a year, but he is likely to get most of his base running value from the things that aren’t in a box score. Crawford has shown he has more raw power than many previously though and I think there is room for a 20 home run season at his peak with a yearly output more in the 15-20 range. In this juiced ball era of power that is not entirely special, but still has value. Crawford also isn’t a high volume hitter who will spray line drives all over the field for a high average, and he probably is going to be a guy that lives in the .260-.280 range for his career based on BABIP luck. What will make him special is a glove that should be plus and a batting eye that should make him one of the best shortstops in the game at getting on base. His value will come from the sum of his parts and while he may not be Seager, Correa, or Lindor he could be that impact building block that scouts saw him as.