Lawrenceville, Georgia —— JP Crawford is right on track.
The Philadelphia Phillies top shortstop prospect made headlines this week by responding to criticism of his recent play with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, calling out ‘critics’ and ‘haters’ and saying he’s using it as motivation. That may well be—bulletin board material is a powerful tool for some—but it’s ironic that Crawford was receiving that level of criticism from some very well-known evaluators in the first place.
Obviously, some evaluators will be down on certain guys and higher on others—I’ve certainly experienced that recently—but it never ceases to amaze me how it seems like people forget about the non-linear path of the development process and the benefits of failure in the minor leagues. Sure, it’d be nice if JP Crawford tore up Triple-A and knocked hard on the big league door in a way similar to what Amed Rosario has been doing in the New York Mets‘ system. But for Crawford, how can you not realize there’s a benefit to fighting through failure and learning about adversity, in a way similar to what Colorado Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon went through last season?
McMahon, for those uninitiated with the Rockies’ system, was supposed to be one of the club’s top prospects and most exciting young stars entering 2016. And then, in a full season at Double-A, he slashed .242/.325/.399/.724 and found himself firmly on the outs with these same prospect evaluators who are now skeptical of JP Crawford. McMahon’s bat was too slow, and his swing too long, they said; he was destined to strike out a ton and wouldn’t be able to consistently produce power, they argued; he doesn’t have a natural defensive position and will prove to be out-gunned against better pitching as he reaches Triple-A and the big leagues, they opined. Fast forward a year, and Ryan McMahon is hitting absolutely everything in Triple-A right now, slashing .385/.412/.634/1.046 in more than 200 Triple-A at-bats and knocking down the door to the big leagues while proving the Rockies’ patience with him was the right move. So much for all those tempered evaluations.
And that’s sort of the point with JP Crawford and the Philadelphia Phillies this year, too; the shortstop is just 22 years old in Triple-A and going through adversity at a high level may be one of the best things that can happen to his career. One disappointing year where he doesn’t fill the stat sheet shouldn’t sour you immediately on a prospect, especially if you’re going on his statistical output alone and haven’t seen him swing the bat lately, or track pitches, or work deep counts and draw walks. Crawford’s approach is significantly more advanced than much of the rest of what I’ve seen across Triple-A this year, and that’ll count for something down the road when he has to learn how to hit big league pitching next year or beyond. To say that he’s no longer an impact prospect because of a down year as a very young newcomer to Triple-A is… curious.
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Obviously, different scouts and evaluators like different players. This is ultimately a subjective event, evaluating talent, regardless of how objective people wish it to be. And if you talk to the right scouts, you get one very pointed look at a player, good or bad. That’s fine, and perhaps it happened here with Crawford as it did for some last year with McMahon. I just think that’s a short-sighted way to look at a young talent playing so far above his age level, and it completely lacks perspective on the JP Crawford I watched play last week on the road in Lawrenceville. Adversity is a good thing in player development, and short of the superstar that blows through the minors with little by way of failure on his road to the big leagues, adversity is a welcome addition to a player’s list of experiences, for when he gets to the big leagues and really finds himself failing a lot, he’ll be better equipped to handle it.
Beyond the broad pronouncements about adversity, though, is JP Crawford’s obviously mature approach at the plate. He’s walking a ton right now, working deep counts, tracking the ball exceptionally well, and recognizing pitches early out of the hand. The sum total of that tells me he’s a player not far from an offensive breakout, statistics be damned; like his southern California compatriot Dominic Smith in Mets’ organization, the Philadelphia Phillies have themselves a hitter mature beyond his years in JP Crawford. Chalk it up to a tough early adjustment to Triple-A, maybe some bad bounces and bad luck with balls hit at people, and just the bizarre way the game plays itself out sometimes, but those things tend to even out some over the course of a year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see JP Crawford figure things out pretty soon.
To say JP Crawford is not an impact player though is, I believe, premature at best and pretty significantly wrong at worst. He’s going to get a long look in the big leagues and he should make a serious impact as an infielder with good hands, great speed, a discerning eye at the plate, and maybe even some sneaky power if he fully puts all the tools together with the Philadelphia Phillies. There’s a lot to like about that. Maybe it’s tempting to compare him to Rosario, or the Atlanta Braves‘ Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, and wonder why your top prospect doesn’t succeed with as much ease as the other guys’ prospect. But that’s ultimately a fruitless pursuit that spends too much time looking outward on others’ development processes and not inward on the raw talent in your own organization. Resist the temptation; JP Crawford will get there on his own time and make an impact in his own way.