It seems as though we have waited an eternity to boast this phrase: J.P. Crawford is the everyday starting shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ever since the now-22-year-old was selected 16th overall out of high school in the 2013 MLB Draft, fans have clamored over what the future could hold in regards to Crawford. His defense, approach at the plate and ability to get on base have always been strong suits. The only question was if he would grow into any significant power.
Well, we saw the usual gap power from Crawford in 2017 that we’ve always seen, but it was the career-high 15 home runs in triple-A that grabbed everyone’s attention.
Now the calendar has turned to 2018. Crawford can leave his rough start to 2017 in the rear-view and start fresh. But this time, it will be a bit different. He is now, undoubtedly, the Opening Day — and everyday — starting shortstop for the Phillies entering Spring Training. Clearly, that is a big change for a guy who started getting the term ‘bust’ floated around with his name just a little more than six months ago.
Here is what I am expecting to see out of Crawford in 2018.
Trust the skill set
I get the feeling that Crawford’s struggles for the first two months of 2017 had at least in part to do with self-added pressure to impress fans and the front office.
It’s no secret that there is a significant amount of pressure on draft picks to successfully develop in the minor leagues and eventually graduate to the major leagues. However, there is even more pressure when you’re a first rounder. Adding to that pressure, regardless of the round a player is drafted in, could cause some problems.
Crawford came out in 2017 similarly to how Nick Williams did in 2016: trying to swing his way to the majors rather than trusting the skill set that got him to where he was. He now has that experience, although if you asked him I’m sure he would rather that he didn’t.
Now that he has made it to the big leagues and earned the confidence of the front office to be the starting shortstop, Crawford is going to be able to trust his skills and tools. And that is exactly what I expect him to do.
Patience, patience, patience
As I mentioned, one of Crawford’s most highly touted attributes throughout his career has been his approach at the plate. Here are his career BB:K splits.
J.P. Crawford BB:K Splits
An approach doesn’t suddenly go away. He was still walking all of last season even when struggling with his swing. That was what impressed me the most because more often than not, a young player will see his approach regress when having a tough time hitting. He even brought the approach to the big leagues and handled the pitching well in in 87 plate appearances.
He is obviously going to adjust more to major league pitching, and I’m sure he’d like to bring that 25.3% K-rate back down to his usual rate of around 15-16%. I’ll be looking to see if he brings the same patience we’ve seen and is able to drop his strikeout rate down to his career average.
Defense carried over
Crawford was very good in the field in his first 23 big league games. He did not commit an error in his combined 188.1 innings and 84 chances at second base, third base and shortstop.
We saw plays that required good range at second base, quick reactions at third base and a great arm at shortstop. If nothing else, Crawford showed his ability to play defense at a high level at three infield positions. That is a difficult thing to do at any level, never mind in your first 23 major league games.
Crawford is now going to be able to focus all of his attention at the position he’s piloted for probably his entire life. It will be one less rotating door he will have to worry about, and that is always a good thing.
His 2017 effort in the field gave him the confidence to be an elite defender, so I expect him to flash the glove repeatedly over the course of the 2018 season.
Versatile in the lineup
If there was one word to describe new manager Gabe Kapler’s first few months with the team, it is definitely ‘unconventional.’ It’s clear that Kapler has brought and is going to continue to bring an entire new philosophy to the Phillies organization and, personally, I love everything he has said in his numerous conferences and interviews since taking the position.
How does this relate to Crawford? Well, it’s simple. Kapler has publicly stated a few times that the Phillies are going to be mixing and matching lineups to play to their players’ strengths. Crawford is a tough hitter with a great approach and a good contact swing. That description could arguably be profiled as a number of positions in the lineup.
A player who will take pitches and get on base at a good clip can obviously lead off. He also has good gap power and, when locked in, can arguably be the best overall hitter on a team. In many modern lineups, the best hitter bats in the two spot. One could also question the inconsistencies in his swing over the past few years and knock him down in the order to the seven spot.
I think Kapler will recognize all of these attributes in Crawford. He is going to slot him in the lineup to best extract what Crawford brings at the plate. On certain days, I think he could surely lead off the ballgame. On others, sliding him down to the seventh spot in the lineup could help flip it back to the top of the order for other on-base machines like Cesar Hernandez, Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins.