Phillies: J.P. Crawford Philadelphia’s Version of Francisco Lindor?

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Mar 7, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford (77) runs to second during the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. The Phillies won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford (77) runs to second during the eighth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. The Phillies won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the World Series underway baseball fans are getting a look at two of the premier young shortstops in the game: Addison Russel and Francisco Lindor

Phillies fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their own premier young shortstop whom they hope can lead them to the same promised land that these two have for their team.

But exactly who is J.P. Crawford and what are his realistic expectations?

First, some background on the Phillies top prospect. Crawford was the 16th pick by the Phillies in the 2014 amateur draft as a high school shortstop who flashed impressive all around talent. A bit on the small side he was projected to grow into his frame, but with growth there was some expectations that some power would develop.

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In his first year as a pro Crawford but up impressive, but not gawdy, numbers. In two leagues, Rookie and Single-A, he put up a slash line of .305/.405/.400, stealing 14-of-20 bases and hitting one home run. His overall numbers for the year were dragged down a bit by a tough but short stint (14 games) at Lakewood. However, he was more than three and a half years younger than the average age though.

It was in this first year that what appears to be his biggest strength became apparent: his discipline at the plate. Crawford will not expand the zone and swing at non-strikes; a skill sorely missed on this current Phillies team.

In fact, in his first professional season Crawford started a trend that’s still standing for himself: he walks more often than he strikes out. How big an achievement is that? Well, only two MLB players managed to accomplish that this year: Ben Zobrist and Joe Panik. The Indians Carlos Santana had a BB/K rate of one, meaning he walked and struck out at the same rate.

Notice how all three of those players were in the playoffs and two of them are in the World Series? Teams need this mentality at the plate, and Crawford brings it consistently.

Crawford has steadily moved up in both the Phillies system and on prospect ranking lists. Currently he’s the number one ranked prospect in the Phillies system and a consensus top five prospect across all of the major prospect rankings sites.

So, everything is awesome, right?  Everything will be cool when he’s part of the team, right?

Not exactly.  We’re not living on a dream here.

The issue with Crawford right now is that most of the “hype” if you will, is based on projections, which are scary. Projections are predicting the future, and we all know how ridiculous that is.

Take Dominic Brown for example. Like Crawford, Brown was a highly regarded prospect. Many sites had him as the best Major League Baseball prospect in the world at one point, and we all know what happened after that. But the thing about Brown was, his ranking as a prospect and the hype surrounding him wasn’t necessarily projection based – it was based on what he was actually doing at that point in time.

Sure, it was projected that he would continue to do that in the big leagues but it wasn’t so much about him getting better as it was him just staying that player.

See, Crawford isn’t exactly lighting up AA and AAA ball. In fact, he’s been quite pedestrian pretty much across the board except for the one area mentioned earlier, plate discipline. He continues to walk despite all of his other troubles.

The problem is that things are different in the majors. Pitchers are different. You have to scare major league pitching or they’ll just pitch to you and you won’t walk.

Aug 18, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; The Phillie Phanatic greets Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Ben Revere (7) before a game at Citizens Bank Park. The Blue Jays won 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; The Phillie Phanatic greets Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Ben Revere (7) before a game at Citizens Bank Park. The Blue Jays won 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Take a look at Ben Revere as an example. Ben Revere has no power and he didn’t scare pitchers in the least bit. He was about as fast as you could be on the base paths, but he wasn’t going to take you deep. So what happened? Well, if you’re a pitcher and you’re facing a batter with good contact skills and no power then you’re just going to go right after him. Give him something he can handle and let him hit his single as opposed to giving him the free pass.  If he puts the ball in play the odds are still in the pitchers favor that he makes an out where the chances of an out on a walk are zero.

That power expectation that was mentioned before? Yeah, so far that hasn’t even come close to developing. In his four seasons in the minors Crawford has managed a measly .387 slugging percentage. For reference, that would put him in the bottom ten of 2016 MLB batters, right next to Cesar Hernandez (.393).  He has 25 home runs in 1560 minor league at bats or one home run every 62.4 at bats. And his slugging percentage has dropped at every level he’s moved up, currently rescinding at .318 for his half season in AAA this year. Again, he’s still very young at 21 but that excuse won’t last for long.

What will happen once he gets to the majors? Unlike minor league pitchers, major league pitchers can throw strikes at will (for the most part) so he won’t be able to rely so much on a pitcher’s inability. They will throw him strikes because they won’t be so worried about him taking them deep, at least until he proves that doing so might cost them. And what’s worse is that unlike Revere, Crawford doesn’t possess that “steal a base at will” type speed. For him, getting on first is just that.

Mar 9, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford (77) catches a pop fly against the Baltimore Orioles during the eighth inning at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford (77) catches a pop fly against the Baltimore Orioles during the eighth inning at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Defensively it’s been tough for J.P. as well. Hold on to your seats with this because it’s jarring. JP Crawford has committed 46 errors in the past two years. That’s in 229 games. That’s one error every five games. He’s been bad, period.  Add to that how great defensively the Phillies current shortstop has been and it Crawford’s need for improvement grows exponentially.

So back to the original premise, how does he stack up to Lindor and Russell?

Fortunately for comparison purposes, their careers are all very similar in terms of age and movement through their systems. Lindor started at age 17 in 2011, Russell at age 18 in 2012 and Crawford at age 18 in 2013. Lindor went straight to A-Ball while Crawford and Russell played at least a little Rookie ball. Lindor spent four and a half seasons in the minors, Russell spent three seasons in the minors and Crawford is starting his fifth. All three were/are consensus top ten prospects.

Lindor hit .279/.354/.384 for a .738 OPS in 1880 plate appearances in the minors. Russell hit .301/.377/.520 for an .897 OPS in 1087 PA’s. Crawford is at .278/.372/.387 for a .759 OPS in 1817 PA’s.

From these numbers it’s pretty easy to see that Addison Russell performed much better at the plate than the other two did but what’s interesting is how it’s gone between him and Lindor since.

Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) hits a RBI-single scoring second baseman Jason Kipnis (not pictured) during the third inning in game four of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) hits a RBI-single scoring second baseman Jason Kipnis (not pictured) during the third inning in game four of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Lindor’s numbers have gone up across the board in the majors while Russell’s have declined. Lindor raised his minor league slash line to .306/.356/.454 and Russell’s went down to .240/.314/.404.

Basically, Lindor went from a bottom of the order hitter to a two or three hole guy and Russell found his way to the seven or eight spot.

Obviously this bodes well for Crawford. It could go either way for him, sure, but with the projections put on him by the professional scouts who’ve seen him play one would think it’s just a matter of time before he hits his stride.

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One of the problems for Crawford in coming to the majors is that he’s somewhat being blocked by Freddy Galvis. The front office doesn’t feel he’s ready, sure, but if they had no real option there might be pressure to “throw him into the fire.”

Lindor didn’t have this problem as the Indians had no good options at shortstop. They basically had no choice but to bring Lindor up when they did. Had Freddy Galvis maybe not had as decent a year as he did, both defensively and offensively, perhaps the Phillies would have had more pressure to move Crawford along.

So, can J.P. Crawford anchor the next competitive Phillies team and propel them to a division, league or maybe even a World Championship? Sure, he’s shown to some extent that he has every bit of that “superstar shortstop” potential. Whether he will or not remains to be seen.

Next: Phillies Looking at a Cubs Coach for Hitting Job?

Let’s hope he does.  Some pretty amazing things happened the last time the Phillies produced a superstar shortstop.

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