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Where in the world is J.P. Crawford?

The team’s once top prospect, injured for most of this year, has been persona non grata since returning to the team.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you’ve been wondering where J.P. Crawford is lately — you know, the guy who was the team’s top prospect at the start of last season and the guy who started this season as the team’s shortstop of the future — you’re not alone.

When Crawford strode to the plate in the 6th inning of the Phillies 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals in the first game of their doubleheader last night, it was as if Sasquatch himself had been spotted emerging from the deep woods to take some hacks at the dish.

In that at-bat, just his second since returning to the team on September 4, he laced a double to right field that almost cleared the wall for a solo home run. It was wonderful to see, especially since hits have been at a premium for the 23-year-old in his brief Major League career.

In 200 career plate appearances before that double, Crawford was hitting just .201, an anemic number to be sure. But still, at just 23-years-old, Crawford has demonstrated good plate discipline throughout his professional career, walking a lot while keeping strikeouts to a minimum, and entered the season as the team’s starting shortstop. He was expected to be a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward.

Now, after a season marred by two DL stints, Crawford sits on the bench in favor of converted second baseman Scott Kingery, veteran addition Asdrubal Cabrera, and utility infielder Pedro Florimon.

The Phillies, until their doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Nats last night, had been in a pennant race, and it’s clear from a recent quote Kapler gave The Athletic’s Ben Harris that he simply doesn’t think Crawford gives the team their best chance to win versus the other three players.

Folks, Scott Kingery is batting .228/.269/.337 this season. Pedro Florimon is hitting .238/.294/.444 in 68 plate appearances. Crawford, in 113 PAs this season, has an OBP of .315 that, while not at all “good,” is better than either Kingery or Florimon. He is also a more dynamic defender than either player, with better range and a better arm than either.

It seems clear that Kapler, and the Phillies, feel that Kingery, Asdrubal Cabrera and Florimon are all now ahead of Crawford in the organization’s depth chart at shortstop, at least for 2018. It also seems clear Kapler and the Phillies do not trust Crawford one iota, which calls into the question his role on this team in the future.

In the top of the 9th inning of last night’s second game of the doubleheader, with the Phillies protecting a 6-3 lead, Kapler still had Cabrera at third base. There is no scenario on Earth in which Crawford is not a better defensive option at the hot corner to protect a lead late in the game than Cabrera, and in that inning, Cabrera failed to turn what could have been a double play. Also in that top of the 9th, Florimon failed to make a play at shortstop that Crawford very likely would have been able to handle.

The Phils ended up blowing that lead in some part to those defensive missed opportunities, and lost 7-6 in 10 innings, essentially ending their season.

None of this makes sense from a baseball perspective. None of it. Crawford is supposed to be the shortstop of the future, and that future was supposed to begin this season. He is the best defensive shortstop on the roster and has demonstrated solid plate discipline in his brief Major League career, despite the lack of hits. So just what is going on here?

Starting Cabrera at shortstop is at least defensible from an offensive standpoint. No one will argue that Cabrera doesn’t provide a lot more pop at the plate than Crawford. But on days in which the Phils want to feature defense and a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, why does Kingery continue to get each and every start?

Against right-handers, Kingery has a .624 OPS and a wRC+ of 66. As a left-handed hitter, Crawford has an OPS of .639 and a wRC+ of 76. Again, these numbers are not much better than Kingery’s, but when you factor in Crawford is a better defensive shortstop, and when you consider we don’t really know what Crawford can do given he’s been limited by injuries this season, it seems odd he hasn’t at least gotten a random start here and there against a right-hander.

There’s no doubt Crawford has struggled at the plate as a Major Leaguer, and he has made seven errors on the season, a high number to be sure. However, many of them were throwing the ball, a problem that could have been exacerbated by the forearm strain that put him on the disabled list for the first time this season.

I’m not making excuses for Crawford’s play this season. He hasn’t produced, and his minor league numbers, until his swing change in July of 2017 when he got ridiculously hot and earned his call-up, weren’t great. But if this guy is supposed to be a major piece of the franchise moving forward, why is he the absolute last option right now, even as a defensive replacement? How does it help him to develop by just having him sit on the bench and stagnate?

Well, there may be a reason. In a recent chat, ESPN’s Keith Law noted there may be some off-the-field issues going on with Crawford.

Eric Longenhagen, lead prospect writer for Fangraphs, says about Crawford, “There are scouts outside the org who do perceive him to be lackadaisical. Others think he just makes stuff look easy, that his blood runs cold, and that the effort level is fine.”

“I haven’t heard that [the Phillies] have an issue with him.”

So does Crawford have an attitude problem? Has he shown a lack of effort? Could that be the reason he appears to have lost favor among the field staff? Is there something non-performance-based that has him on the outs? There doesn’t seem to be a solid answer one way or the other.

It would have been a great finish to this piece if I could have told you that, in the bottom of the 9th inning of the second game of the doubleheader, Crawford notched a game-winning hit when he came to the plate as a pinch hitter with runners on 1st and 2nd and one out and the game tied 6-6, but he didn’t. He grounded into a force out instead.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to wonder whether the Phillies have decided that, if they do not sign Manny Machado to play shortstop for them next year, Kingery is their shortstop of the future, not Crawford. It’s fair to wonder if the Phils have turned the page on Crawford as one of their young players upon which to build.

No one will say it publicly, but actions speak louder than words.