JP Crawford since the day he was drafted 16th overall in 2013, has been labeled as the start of the next generation of Phillies baseball. He was considered the top overall shortstop in his draft class despite the lack of power due to his tremendous plate discipline, barrel control and his overall feel at shortstop. Since the start of the 2015 season, JP has been named the top prospect in the organization by a number of outlets, even being a top overall 15 prospect the last couple of years. And while his discipline and fielding never declined, his ability to drive the ball into the gaps and over the RF wall had departed him. He was never a power guy to begin with but something changed when he got to Lehigh Valley in the middle of May last year. From May 20, 2016 to June 10, 2017, Crawford played in 143 AAA games compiling a .225/.322/.293 line with 23 XBH (6 HR). In the 143 games before that (5/6/15-5/19/20, it was .283/.384/.408 with 46 XBH (9 HR). Some of this could be due to adjustment period. Some can be pointed to injuries (bone chips last year, the recent hamstring). But this month of July, where we celebrate “a faux Christmas”, he may have finally figured out the problem and given Phillies fans a gift of hope.
At this point, we all know what JP has done since recovering from his hamstring injury. Entering today in 31 games, he was hitting .286/370/.571 with 18 XBH (8 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR) in 131 PA. Prior to that .194/.313/.252 with 7 XBH (4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR) in 244 PA. Some can point to maybe he was playing hurt for a bit and he needed time to heal. Others may say that really it was a day-to-day injury and really the nine day period was to allow him to refocus himself. Both can conceivably be true, but the last few months has been a progression for the Phillies top position player prospect. So let’s break this timeline down.
In the video below taken in April, his bat is tilted closer to 45 degrees, which takes his front elbow little higher and away from his body. His timing mechanism is more of a toe tap, barely getting his lead foot off the ground. He’s also crouched and has a fairly open stance. As we know April was a really bad month, and his upper half and lower half were not in sync and he couldn’t drive the ball much.
Fast forward to May and let’s look at his 1st home run. The crouch isn’t as exaggerated as it was and he has now added a leg lift, but he’s still fairly open, as seen by how far his lead leg has to come on the lift. Another change is that his hands are now nearly above his head and because of where his hands are it doesn’t look like it’s at a 45 degree angle. This also creates more of an arm bar type of swing. This is usually consistent in a lot of past videos of JP, and he has had success with it before, but he gets exposed with more experienced pitchers because he has to bring the bat a long way and he ends up rolling the ball on low pitches.
In June everything stayed the same as May, except he would bring his front leg a bit closer from where it was, while maintaining an open stance. This was like this even after the injury. And now we hit July, where he’s hit 6 of his 8 home runs. In the first video below on July 2, we can see that he’s crouched in this particular AB, and the hands are almost above the head still.
The above video would be the last you will see of that, because shortly thereafter every video had a noticeable difference. In these next two videos that were both taken over the last week (a home run and a triple) notice where his hand position and bat are. His hands are now no longer above the brim of his helmet and his elbows are now closer to his body. His bat angle is now a bit more above 45 degrees than below it. Everything from his lower half mechanics and upper half mechanics are now in sync with each other. These things have allowed him get to the ball quicker and pull the ball much harder while still being able to go the other way for singles.
Last night he went 1/4 with a bloop double in his 3rd AB and striking out swinging on three breaking balls in his last at-bat. But his 1st AB last night was yet another great example of the changes he has made an the result that has come out of it.
JP’s progression mechanically throughout the season, is just another example of what many of these prospects, even the better ones must go through in order to achieve success. We can sometimes lose sight of that because we are so analytically driven nowadays that we try to quantify everything. We’ve even gotten to the point of what someone’s launch angle should be off the bat in order to achieve the highest hit rate. But it’ll always be the things that fans don’t always see right away that lead to a better future. And while some in the scouting world gave up on JP, the Phillies, the fans and myself have not. I still believe he is a .280/.360/.415, above average defender at SS. And that is enough to be a core piece moving forward.
Other Minor Thoughts
- Scott Kingery ended up reaching base three different times, but the last two came on errors. However in his second AB on the first error, he showed off his wheels, as I kept timing about 4.02-4.06 out the box off contact. In his 1st AB, he got a pitch up in the zone and lined it in to CF. I like the stride he takes towards the ball and the swing plane he has, and while he still weak against off-speed stuff away, he’s remained very steady since his call-up to AAA (.274/.304/.484, 5 HR, 7 SB in 103 PA).
- There’s really nothing more to say about Rhys Hoskins, as he tied his Bash Brother Dylan Cozens for the International League lead with his 23rd HR with a moonshot in the bullpen in LF off Andrew Albers (who had his way vs the IronPigs until his ejection right after that pitch). Even though Rhys has cooled off since his schorching hot start (.203/.280/.392 in 82 PA this month), it’s also clear that he’s major league ready and that current Phillies 1B, Tommy Joseph, will likely not play everyday in 2018. The question is will Rhys be up before September? The 1B/DH market is really dry right now and the Yankees and Angels would be good partners but they may rather ride it out with their internal candidates. It’s tough for me to imagine Rhys getting the call-up at this time. Make no mistake though, he will be the everyday 1B in 2018.
- I’ve always viewed Zach Eflin as a back end starter because he didn’t really have an out pitch to strike guys out with. He ended up striking out nine last night, but the problem was his fastball wasn’t great at 91-96 mph and he got torched for seven runs and ten hits in five innings. When the Braves kept swinging early in the count, Eflin didn’t adjust and he kept going back to fastball/change-up, remaining more of a two-pitch pitcher. Eflin can pound the strike zone, but he doesn’t mix it up and relying on contact has got him in the minors right now and Ben Lively might get a call-up if Jeremy Hellickson is dealt before he does.
- Lastly, I want to talk about two top prospects from division rivals that I’ve seen the last couple of weeks. Last Tuesday, I got the chance to see Nationals’ top prospect Victor Robles in Wilmington. And if you think Roman Quinn is fast in the Phillies system, Robles is just as fast if not faster. He would easily get a triple he powered into left-center and then hit a bunt single later on where he ran 3.66 down to 1B out of the box. Robles was just promoted to AA at 20 years old and he maybe racing his way to the big leagues to form a super fast 1-2 punch with Trea Turner for years to come. Then there is the Braves’ top guy, Ronald Acuna, who went 4/5 last night with an absolute blast the other way over the big RF wall. Acuna showed off real five tool potential last night, and while his strikeouts are up (16.2% to 25.3% K), he’s made plenty of hard contact to all fields and walked a decent amount to offset that. Did I also mention he’s 19 years old in AAA? The Braves don’t really a ton of position players to build around other than Freeman and Swanson, as most of their roster is comprised of veterans past their prime. Acuna could be a big threat in the middle of the Braves lineup for years to come.