2016 Phillies Report Card: J.P. Crawford
J.P. Crawford, in his age-21 season, made it to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for 87 games. Regardless of which prospect list you trust, Crawford is considered a top-3 prospect in all of baseball, as of the midseason updates, and now, the Phillies’ best prospect in years is now knocking on the door of the Big League Club. Many (including myself) would have loved to see him ply his trade against Major League pitchers, but that wasn’t realistic, given that he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and the service time manipulation that teams use to keep players cheaper longer.
If you’re not very familiar with Crawford’s profile, he has a very advanced control of the strike zone for a player his age, and he projects to have a plus hit tool, average power, above-average baserunning, plus fielding, and a plus arm. He has the potential to be a perennial All-Star, and, coming off a 2015 season in which he dominated High-A (192 wRC+ in 95 PAs) before impressing in his first taste of Double-A (121 wRC+ in 506 PAs), expectations were high.
After starting off the 2016 season strong in Double-A, Crawford struggled a bit in Triple-A (90 wRC+ in 385 PAs). After posting better a .138 ISO and a walk rate two percentage points higher than his strike out rate in Double-A, his power and patience took a step back in Triple-A. He posted a .074 ISO and a walk rate nearly five percentage points below his strike out rate. While the output was somewhat disappointing, it masks the impressive fact that Crawford played the majority of his age-21 season at Triple-A.
Keep in mind too, that Crawford was out for a couple weeks in August with an oblique injury. I always try to be aware of players’ performances pre- and post-injury. I think it says a lot about whether the injury lingered after the player was back on the field. In this case, there may be some truth to that thought:
A .770 OPS won’t win you any MVPs, but context is important here, as J.P. Crawford was the youngest regular player in the league, and by all accounts, he’s an excellent defensive shortstop. As Brandon Crawford (107 wRC+, 5.8 fWAR) and Addison Russell (95 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR) just showed us, an averageish bat and excellent shortstop defense can make a great player. Phillies fans were spoiled for years by Jimmy Rollins’ combination of excellent defense and baserunning and average hitting. In Crawford, it looks like Phillies fans could be spoiled for years to come.
I’m tempted to give Crawford an incomplete, due to the injury issues discussed above, but that’s really just the homer in me talking. Objectively, Crawford, in his first taste of Triple-A, struggled with advanced pitching and injury. While acknowledging that this season can’t be seen as anything but a step forward, it would have been nice to see Crawford handle Triple-A pitchers better. He’ll be assigned to Triple-A again and, barring injury, will make his MLB debut next year. Watch out, Freddy Galvis.