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.

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.

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18 comments

  1. Mike Fassano

    September 04, 2017 08:53 PM

    Great profile, and I agree that he should bat low in the line up for a while. I don’t recall you mentioning it, but what are your feelings on J.P. playing anywhere except shortstop?

    • Romus

      September 05, 2017 09:00 AM

      JPC will be the Phillies version of the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Eventually, they will hand the keys to him and he will being driving and steering the Phillies bus.

    • Matt Winkelman

      September 05, 2017 10:20 AM

      I think he could play 2B and 3B defensively but you would be reducing his value to your baseball team

  2. Steve

    September 05, 2017 12:59 PM

    It really depends on who your other options are at those positions. Yes, in a vaccum, JP is nore valuable at ss than 2b or 3b, but you need to look at the other players available at those positions. Is an infield of
    2b-hernandez
    Ss- crawford
    3b-franco
    More valuable than:
    2b- hernandez
    Ss- galvis
    3b- crawford
    Or even:
    2b- crawford
    Ss- galvis
    3b-franco

    In addition, if crawford can play 3b and 2nd it allows you to keep galvis, crawford, and franco on the roster for one more season. IMO, if Franco doesnt improve in 2018 the team needs to explore options for an upgrade. If you can keep Galvis and Crawford, you have another option at 3b for the short term.

    • Mike Fassano

      September 05, 2017 01:53 PM

      I’d rather play Crawford at SS and Galvis at 2nd & 3rd. Galvis is a short timer, in my opinion. He’s going to get a hefty raise in arbitration this year, and is eligible to walk after next year. The Phillies should trade Galvis over the winter, but barring that, definitely by the next trading deadline.

      • Steve

        September 06, 2017 09:07 AM

        Galvis is definately a short timer. There is no reason for him to have a starting roll on the Phillies beyond the 2018 season. But if he is a better defensive SS than JP why would you want to see him moved to 3b next year? I fully expect JP to be the SS of the future. My only point was that is JP can move around the INF, it allows him to get significant playing time without having to permanently cut ties with Franco or Galvis for one more year.
        By opening day 2019 i fully expect Crawford to be the starting SS, and my gut tells me Franco will not be the starting 3b, but i hope he proves otherwise.

    • Bill G

      September 05, 2017 02:26 PM

      Freddy Galvis is Robert Covington. He does one thing (defense) very well, but nothing else is even at league average levels. The occasional pop he gives you comes with an OBP floating around .300.

      I’m not blocking JP Crawford’s path to shortstop for Freddy Galvis…that would be like saying “no thanks, we don’t want Paul George…we’ve got Robert Covington”

    • Simplefact

      September 05, 2017 03:40 PM

      No, what you are looking at is:
      1b Hoskins
      2B Kingerly
      SS Crawford
      3b Galvis/Hernandez FRANCO to AAA until he learns some discipline
      CF OH
      LF AA
      RF NW
      C Alfaro/Knapp Alfaro’s defense scares me some but he has to play.

      I’m not sure Hernandez could hold down 3b long term but it be nice having his bat in the lineup. FG could be a super utility, defensive replacement for Hernandez at 3b. With that lineup, you’d have four players in the infield with above average OBP.
      Cehe
      AA
      OH
      Rhys
      NW
      Kingerly
      Crawford
      Alfaro
      You’d have people on base!

      • Romus

        September 05, 2017 04:52 PM

        Spot on.
        Aiming for higher OBP metrics is key to successful play-off caliber teams.
        The top play-off teams normally sit at the top of the leader board for team OBP.
        I love Freddy….but he is a career <.300 OBP player, both minors and major leagues.
        And Mack still insists on batting him second in the lineup!

      • Steve

        September 06, 2017 09:13 AM

        Kingery should not be in the majors until after the 2018 super 2 deadline.
        Theres even an arguement that he shouldnt be called up at all unless they seriously invest in improving pitching and are contending for a wildcard, but i think he is ready to hit MLB pitching and prefer to see him join this core of Crawford, Hoskins etc in the majors.
        Unless we get solid trade offers for Cesar and Freddy, one of them should be the opening day 2b.

      • MplsPhilsFan

        September 06, 2017 09:34 AM

        Simplefact,

        I would have AA in RF and NW in LF (defensive numbers are better for both, at least in a small sample size in those positions) and would use a some of the depth in the infield and farm system to get a new 3B. Whether that is Suarez from the Reds or another player like Healy from the A’s, we need someone other than Franco there

  3. LZ

    September 05, 2017 11:00 PM

    Just got home from seeing this game live at Citi Field. Who would’ve guessed that the big story tonight ends up being Ben Lively tossing 7 innings of 1 run ball and picking up 4 RBIs off a 2 run single then a deeep 2 run bomb to right center both off deGrom.

    Had the great privilege this season to see both Crawford and Williams notch their first major league hits. As you called it in this column, they slotted him 7th. Despite his underwhelming debut game, it was encouraging to see Herrera, Williams, and Hoskins all get quality ABs and 4 RBIs between them. Really does give you a glimpse of a competitive future. Esp if guys like Lively can deliver quality starts like this.

  4. Mike Fassano

    September 06, 2017 10:49 AM

    Matt, you and Jay Polinsky are my go to guys for minor league information. I’m assuming that the Phillies will acquire a starting pitcher over the winter. Add in Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez, and say Pivetta and you’ve got the rotation of five. Looking at the Ironpigs rotation for next year, things get fuzzy. There’s Lively, Eshelman, Anderson, Leibrandt, Tavaras, Thompson, Appel, and Alvarez. Who’s the best trade bait? Who gets demoted? Who gets cut?

    • MplsPhilsFan

      September 06, 2017 12:27 PM

      Package Eshelman, Appel and possibly Galvis for a 3B. Trade Cesar for a top 50-100 pitching prospect and select Brady Singer in the 2018 draft. That is a team that could be over .500 in 2018 and contend in 2019

      • Romus

        September 06, 2017 02:25 PM

        Mpls…do not forget , you need a market for Cesar. Second basemen alone do not bring back much in return value. Rays got prospect RHP Jose DeLeon for career 10WAR Logan Forsythe last year.
        Teams needing second basemen are limited right now…..someone earlier mentioned Dodgers, Rays, Blue Jays and maybe the Mets as the four teams who may be looking..
        Ray’s RHP prospect Honeywell would be a nice get if they were willing to part with him. He has a pitch rarely ever used anymore…screwball.

      • MplsPhilsFan

        September 07, 2017 09:31 AM

        Romus, of course, for a player to be traded there has to be a market for him. But I think there would be one for a player that had a WAR of over 3 last year, will be close to that again this year, is currently a top 10 2B by both Fangraphs and B-R and cannot be a free agent until 2021.

        Now what that return might be, the outcomes for that are fairly wide. But looking at teams like the Marlins, the Reds (do not believe in Scooter Gennett, sorry), the Brewers, or the Diamondbacks I could see him fitting on any of those squads. With Cesar being cost controlled for the next several years, even a rebuilding team like the Reds should be interested.

  5. Michael C Lorah

    September 06, 2017 10:50 AM

    JP got a hit, fielded his position – I’ll call his debut a modest success. I’m looking forward to his next game (and even more so, his first game against another team so I can finally watch him, since my MLB.tv package blacks me out when the Phils play the Mets!)

    The only thing that continually bugs me about seeing the kids coming up is hearing Pete’s continual support for not taking time away from Joseph and Galvis. I appreciate both players and I’m sure they’re good guys who work hard (and I give Pete some credit for his loyalty), but we know what we have in them and what we have isn’t particularly inspiring. Crawford, Hoskins, Altherr, Williams and Herrera should be playing as much as possible in September.

    • Steve

      September 06, 2017 11:03 AM

      I agree with you in principle but who have Joseph or Galvis taken time away from? JP got called up and started immediately. Hoskins has been playing every day. Altherr just got activated and honestly, no of us know how his hamstring is. Why play him on a rainy night?
      Now if Altherr, Williams and Herrera wind up in some kind of a time share just so Hoskins can play OF and Joseph play 1b, im totally with you. Lets give Pete more than one night to figure out how he wants to fit all the kids in the lineup before we rip him.

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