The differences between 28-year-old starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff and 23-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford couldn’t be more obvious.
Eickhoff is five years older than Crawford, was never really considered a top prospect but has already had two productive seasons in the Majors and, well, does a completely different thing on the baseball field than Crawford in that he pitches the ball. Crawford, meanwhile, doesn’t even have half a season on his big league ledger, but was once seen as the best prospect in the organization, with lots of high-end talent oozing out of him.
But, these two players both have one thing in common. The 2018 season were lost seasons for both of them.
Eickhoff missed the end of the 2017 season due to numbness in his fingers that cut off his year after an uneven 24 starts and 128 innings, with a 4.71 ERA and a K/BB rate of 2.23. That was a far cry from his 2016 season, in which he posted a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts, striking out 167 batters in 197.1 innings, with a K/BB rate of 3.98.
Coming into spring training, there was hope Eickhoff would be able to be a valuable member of the rotation, but a strained back muscle in Clearwater got things off to a bad start, and then the numbness in his fingers returned, keeping him the DL for virtually the entire season.
However, late in the year, Eickhoff felt well enough to make his return, and made eight minor league starts, four of them for AAA Lehigh Valley. He posted a 2.41 ERA in 18.2 innings at Lehigh, but with just 4.82 K/9 and a FIP of 4.56.
Nevertheless, the Phillies decided to give Eickhoff a start at the end of the season against the Braves, on the final weekend of the year, and in 3.1 innings, he struck out 8 of the 15 batters he faced. And while his fastball averaged about 91 mph, his curveball, a huge weapon for him when he was going well, looked like it was back.
He’s still just 28 years old, but his spot in the 2019 rotation looks very much uncertain.
As for Crawford, he played in just 49 games last year after two stints on the DL, missing a little more than a month due to a strained forearm from April 29 to June 6, and then suffering a broken left hand after getting hit by a pitch against the Cardinals on June 19, not to play again with the Phillies until September 8.
Overall, he hit just .214/.319/.393 in 138 PAs, with a wRC+ of 96 that was hardly impressive. However, after returning from the DL on June 6, his offensive numbers were quite good. He hit .245/.394/.472 with a homer, three doubles and three triples in 67 plate appearances, good for a wRC+ of 138.
His eight errors, almost all throwing the baseball, were mystifying and perhaps could be explained by his forearm issues. Or, maybe they can’t. What seemed clear was that the Phillies didn’t seem overly anxious to get Crawford back in the lineup once it became clear their postseason aspirations were gone in September.
Crawford certainly has his detractors, and it’s fair that he has not done much to blow anyone’s hair back since joining the big leagues. But at just 23 years old, is his future in Philly already done?
It is if the Phils sign Manny Machado. Machado would likely play shortstop, and it’s doubtful the team would make Crawford the full-time third baseman. He would probably be most valuable to the team as a trade piece rather than a bench player, but if the Phillies don’t sign Machado, does Crawford get the everyday shortstop job? He should.
We came into the 2018 season thinking we would get to see a lot of Crawford and that we would have some answers regarding his future. But his inability to stay on the field has thrown his future into flux as well.
Last year was a lost year for both Eickhoff and Crawford, and no one is quite sure exactly where either player will be, or what they’ll be doing, but the time 2019 rolls around.