Phillies Prospect Conversations: Chris Crawford (MLBDraftInsider and ESPN)
And so we begin a new season’s worth of conversations with the internet’s best prospect writers. We’ll examine those writers’ lists and talk with them about the Phillies system. Our first participant this year is Chris Crawford, he of ESPN’s MLB Draft coverage and MLBDraftInsider.com. Chris does really terrific work and his readership is deservedly growing at an exponential rate. He’s currently mowing through farm systems as he pumps out reports with his Top 14 in ’14 series. The Phillies list is here. It’s free and it includes meaty reports on all fourteen guys he ranks as well as present/future tool grades. If you like his work (you will) and you’re interested in the upcoming draft (you should be) then I’d encourage you to buy Crawford’s excellent Draftbook. It’s just $1.99 and for that you’ll get 150 amateur scouting reports in a neat and clean PDF whhich will be emailed to you within an hour or two of purchase. You’ll also get an updated version of the book closer to draft day. It’s a terrific resource, one I used to build my preliminary amateur schedule for this spring, and it can be ordered here. Let’s get to my chat with Chris.
Eric: What have you seen that makes you so optimistic about the development of JP Crawford’s bat? You have a future 60 grade on the hit tool and project his power up to average. Those are perhaps the most optimistic grades I’ve seen on both.
Chris: The 60 grade hit tool really wasn’t difficult for me, though if you wanted to drop Crawford down to 55-45 I wouldn’t call you an idiot (Eric’s note: Good, because I do). When you show that kind of feel for hitting though, at that young of age, I think you’ve got a chance to have a plus hit-tool, with sufficient bat speed, quick wrists and the ability to go the other way. The power is just based on projection, as I think he’s going to get strong and be able to take mistakes out of the park. Is it an aggressive ranking? Sure, but based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, he’s got a great chance of reaching those grades.
Eric: You’ve got five ’13 draftees in your top 14. Is that entirely a product of your positive views of that draft class or is it a result of what, in your eyes, is an otherwise barren system?
Chris: It’s a little bit of both, probably more the latter than the former if I’m being completely honest. Nevertheless, it was a really good draft, my favorite draft of any National League team and maybe my favorite overall. The Phillies got top 75 players with each of their first four draft picks, and there’s a solid combination of high upside guys (Cord Sandberg) and safe value (Andrew Knapp). This was a club that desperately needed to recharge their farm system, and the 2013 draft was a very good start, in my humble estimation.
Eric: Two of those guys, Cord Sandberg and Jake Sweaney, are two-sports high schoolers. When you’re evaluating someone who has perhaps spent less time on baseball than he has on other things do you view that as a positive (I can’t wait to see what he does when he starts playing baseball every day) or as a negative (those skills and nuances he should have developed by now aren’t there and it’s potentially too late to learn them) and why?
Chris: That’s a great question. There have been plenty of athletes that have tantalized scouts with their athletic ability who just flat can’t play the game, and often those are players who are new to the sport. What it really comes down to for me is whether or not you feel like an average (no better, no worse) player-development staff can turn raw athletic ability into a legitimate baseball player. In the case of Sandberg and Sweaney, I think that’s absolutely the case. But there is a lot more risk involved when the baseball skills are that raw.
Eric: The futures of many of the guys in your top 14 will be influenced by physical development. Tocci, Quinn and Crawford all need to get stronger and bigger while Sandberg, Hernandez and Altherr are likely (except maybe Altherr) going to get too big to play up the middle. What do you look for when projecting bodies and which of those six players do you think will achieve a physical makeup that is optimum for their skillset/position?
Chris: Projecting bodies is one of the most difficult things to do in scouting the amateur side, particularly with prep players because the body does so much developing in that 18-20 year range that it’s nearly impossible to say what their body type will be. One of the things you look for is work ethic; if a player who needs to stay at a certain size or to put more on his frame gets less-than-ideal remarks from coaches and scouts about his passion for the game or how hard he works off the field, that’s a big red flag. That’s why you can project with Crawford, though, as he gets high marks in that regard. There’s some guess work and you really never know, but you can generally formulate an idea based on what you see and what you hear from others. Definitely an imperfect science, though. (Eric’s Note: I wrote about Crawford and projecting his body Here)
Eric: Who were some guys that just missed your list?
Chris: Kelly Dugan just missed, and in hindsight he probably should have been included somewhere in the top ten, but I have some questions about his overall upside and want to see what he can do verse upper-level pitching. The same can be said for Dylan Cozens, who has a ton of raw ability but will have to fight an uphill battle with his size (he was recruited by the University of Washington as a defensive end). Deivi Grullon was another guy who just missed and he may have the strongest arm of any catcher in minor-league baseball, but the hit tool just isn’t there yet.
Eric: I’m a Dugan guy. I love the bat speed and the defense but I’m fearful of injuries because his lower half is so thin. Not sure he can withstand the grind. I’m in on Grullon, too. Even if he never hits he probably gets there because the defense is so good and I can’t really see it going backwards unless he really lets himself go. Do you think people are sort of overlooking Grullon’s July 2 classmate, Jose Pujols? I’ve never been an ardent Pujols proponent but I haven’t heard his name mentioned even once in all of this prospect goodness that’s being published this week. Do you think we’re not hearing about him because Grullon has the present tools and Pujols is essentially all projection and so focus has shifted toward Deivi or have people just begun to sour on Pujols?
Chris: I haven’t had a chance to see Pujols in person, but I think it’s a case of a guy with one tool (power) that projects above-average and questionable defense from a corner outfielder as compared to a guy like Gruillon who looks like he can stick behind the plate and there’s a non-zero chance he can hit enough to be an everyday backstop. Could Pujols put himself into the top 15-20 if he hits next year? Absolutely, but I think that’s asking a lot based on what was seen in the GCL this summer.
Eric: There are actually quite a few of power before hit guys in the system now that I’m thinking about it. Zach Green, Larry Greene, Cozens, Pujols, even Gabriel Lino has some pop. How do you differentiate the ones that have a chance to hit enough to tap into that power from the ones who don’t? Is there a certain thing you’ll see that sends up red flags on guys who are just never going to make enough contact to survive?
Chris: You look at a few things, really. Some guys just have no feel at the plate and are either trying to hit the ball 900 feet every time and/or are just praying that the ball they put in play lands where a defender isn’t. Others have an idea and can recognize pitches and work counts into their favor, but just don’t have the swing path to project an average hit tool. In both cases it’s an uphill battle, but I’d rather have the latter, because that’s a lot easier to coach up than teaching a kid what exactly hitting is.
Eric: I’m sure you discussed Severino Gonzalez with sources as you were building the list. What’s being said about him? His size is obviously a concern but is the stuff good enough to miss bats moving forward?
Chris: I’m lower on Gonzalez than the industry, but most that I’ve talked to think he’s a No. 4 type with above-average command of three pitches. The reason he wasn’t a top 14 guy for me is that at 153 pounds I don’t think he can give you 150-170 innings, and while the strikeout totals are solid now, I don’t think he’s going to be able to miss as many bats as he gets into the upper levels. If he puts up similar numbers in AA next year he’ll shoot up the rankings, but I think he’s more of a No. 5/swing guy than a mid-rotation starter.
Eric Last one. Give me a name of someone in the system who isn’t on your list that you like more than you probably should
Chris:As awful as he’s been, I still hold a semblance of hope for Mitch Gueller. He was a top 40 prospect for me coming out of the draft and he’s just too athletic for me to completely write him off as a potential asset for the Phillies. It’s a long shot, but a shot nonetheless. Pre-draft, Gueller was a projectable right-hander who had shown above-average feel for pitching — especially for a two-way prospect — and most thought he’d have at least a 60 fastball and two average to above-average secondary offerings. That feel for pitching hasn’t shown up at all in minor-league games, and he’s really struggled to throw strikes and to finish off hitters when he does get ahead in the count. That being said he won’t be 21 until November so there’s still plenty of time to reestablish his once promising prospect status, with the outfield as a potential fallback.
Thanks again to Chris for his participation and be sure to bookmark his site for frequent use. Links to other discussions: