Phillies To Call Up J.P. Crawford: Looking Forward
This piece is a companion to my J.P. Crawford retrospective on Phillies Minor Thoughts.
The most anticipated transaction in the Phillies system for the best 3+ years was the promotion of J.P. Crawford to the majors. It was a move that was meant represent the start of the new age of Philadelphia baseball. Crawford has slipped a bit from this path, but he is still the Phillies top prospect and his promotion is still probably the biggest event of the Phillies 2017 season. Instead of being the start of the new age of Philadelphia baseball, Crawford will be asked to augment what already looks like a bright future highlighted by Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr. There has been much written about Crawford over the years and what he might mean to the Phillies, but here on the eve of his callup we get a chance to step back and look at his full minor league resume and see what he might be for the Phillies.
It is hard to translate any sort of statistical defensive numbers from the minors to the majors. What we do know from scouting is that Crawford has great instincts at shortstop and a strong and accurate arm. For the most part he is not a flashy player because his body control makes his motions appear smooth, but he is capable of the making the play deep in the hole at short or making a play on pure athleticism.
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He has been prone over the years to making mistakes on simple plays when he rushes a throw or transfer. Those mistakes have gone down over the years, but he is probably going to make a couple head scratchers from time to time. He probably won’t be a Gold Glove caliber defender, and is likely a slight downgrade from Galvis at short, but he should stick there long term and his glove will be an asset to the team.
At the plate there is much more debate about what Crawford will be. It is clear he won’t steal many bases despite having above average speed. He has shown some acumen for smart base running decisions, but we also don’t have the minor league stats on non-stolen base base running plays to have any concrete evidence.
As for power, Crawford’s 15 home runs this season represent a career high. Of those 15, 12 came in his last 71 games. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle between the numbers with a 15-20 home run a year pace being his peak. He can be prone to selling out for power as well as being prone to swinging without movement necessary to drive the baseball, so there is room for him to miss the mark. However, he has made strides in altering his approach this season to attack pitches to drive, and that has contributed significantly to his power output.
Crawford has a fine swing, he doesn’t have elite bat speed, nor does he have an innate feel for contact. He is able to make contact with most pitches and is able to drive the ball with loft. Halfway through the 2017 season he was able to find a comfortable place to have his hands pre-swing as well as solidifying his footwork. This helped him to sync up his movement and allowed his natural athleticism to translate more to his swing. Unless he has some dramatic changes in his feel for contact, he is not going to be a player who posts high batting averages on balls in play, and that coupled with his low power numbers, is likely to keep his batting average more in the middle of the pack.
What has made Crawford special is his on base abilities. Despite his struggles this year, he posted a .351 OBP which was the 12th highest in the International League. This was thanks to a league leading 79 walks and 14.1% BB%. The only other two players in the past 4 seasons to post a BB% over 14 at age 22 or younger are Joc Pederson and Joey Gallo. We have seen walk rates collapse in the majors because pitchers were unafraid to throw strikes to hitters, but with his recent power surge Crawford should be able to keep pitcher’s honest. His high walk rate comes from a confidence to work from behind in the count and a very good batting eye.
Currently the Phillies’ shortstop is batting .253/.304/.390. That is good for a wRC+ of 79 which is 17th among major league shortstops. Shortstops as a whole are hitting .261/.315/.410 this season. Both those numbers are well within Crawford’s grasp, even if he does struggle some to get started. Currently only 3 qualified shortstops have OBPs above .350, and while I think that Crawford’s ceiling is in that range, I would not set that as the expectation for 2017 or 2018.
It is easy to pencil Crawford into the #2 spot in the order for Phillies for the next decade, but for now there are going to be growing pains. He is 22 years old, he is not yet physically mature and he still is prone to some bad habits. For now I would expect the #2 spot to be Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera with Crawford hitting more down in the #7 or #8 spot in the batting order. What he should do is work counts, and with the return of Herrera and Altherr, coupled with the continued greatness of Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies should have a deeper lineup when it comes to working the opposing pitcher.
Crawford was long billed as the savior, and he might well be. For now he is one of the last players to arrive in the majors from the first major waves of prospects. He won’t be asked to carry this team, instead he just needs to be another bright light for the Phillies’ future.