J.P. Crawford is a man of few words. He speaks in concise, pointed phrases that ooze confidence. Many players do that, but few have the tools to back up those words like Crawford does.
The 21-year old shortstop has moved through the system quickly since being taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 Draft. His M.O. has been to open the season at one level and quickly show enough talent to move to the next, and the Phillies are hoping to continue that trend this season. There was some speculation that having played 86 games with Double-A Reading last season, Crawford could start the year at the Triple-A level. Instead, the Phillies have sent him back to Reading, but he figures to quickly be taking that 40-minute drive from Reading to Lehigh Valley, moving himself to within easy striking distance of Philadelphia.
In 2013, Crawford played 39 games in the Gulf Coast League before skipping over Williamsport and heading for Lakewood for the final 14 games of the season. The next Spring, he was back at Lakewood and lasted 60 games before heading to Clearwater. After 63 games with the Threshers in 2014 and another 21 to open last season, Reading was the next stop for Crawford. He's now played an even 100 games with the Fightin' Phils, the most he's played at any level.
Crawford admits that he thought about the possibility of opening the year at Triple-A, but in the end, realizes that there's not really much he can do, other than continue to show his skills, that will get him to take that 40-minute trip. He's had success with Reading, hitting a combined 6-38-.270/.366/.411 in his 100 games at Double-A and he's hitting a swift .302 in his first 14 games this season. Crawford also admits that he's more excited coming into this season than he has been in previous seasons.
"I'm a lot more excited and just ready to go," said Crawford before this season's opener. "I'm hoping to win more games early in the season and help my team out. I just want to win some games, help my team and stay healthy."
For the first time in his career, Crawford spent some time in big league camp this Spring and thinks that the time there was well spent.
"I felt like I learned a lot up there. Some of the guys taught me a lot and I felt like it went really well," said Crawford.
While Crawford is celebrated as one of the better defensive shortstops in the minors, he made 27 errors last season and 29 in 2014. The disconnect between his defensive reputation and errors is hard to explain, but it starts with Crawford's ability to make absolutely spectacular plays. Diving, ranging left, right, in or out and getting to balls that many shortstops simply give up on is Crawford's bread and butter. He lives to make splashy plays that have opponents shaking their heads as they take a turn to the right at first base and head back to the dugout. That splashiness may be part of what gets Crawford into some trouble. At times, he'll look to make an ordinary play look more spectacular by using his canon arm to launch a throw to first base rather than simply letting the play unfold and make the basic play.
Of his four errors this season, three are on throws, but it's not because he has a bad arm. His arm is strong and accurate, but when he speeds up plays and looks to turn that arm up a notch, he becomes just like a pitcher who tries to overthrow a pitch; the ball sails and can easily become a souvenir for a fan in the seats behind first base.
This Spring, the Phillies preached patience and consistency to Crawford defensively. The new approach is something that the young shortstop is embracing and hoping to use to help reduce his errors.
"Just slowing everything down," said Crawford. "I did that this year in Spring and it's helping me out, so we have to see what the season holds."
It's really too early in the season, with too small of a sample size to evaluate how the approach is playing out. Mathematically - using that small sample size - Crawford is on a pace for 40 errors, but don't figure that he's going to have that many miscues by the end of the season. He's going to get this. He's going to learn to control that splashiness and realize that simply making a routine play and throwing a runner out at first is more impressive than lighting up some imaginary radar gun measuring throws from short.
The tools are there and if Crawford can keep his confidence from turning into an arrogance and simply work to keep routine plays routine and save the splash for when it's needed, he truly will live up to the lofty defensive billing that he's gotten from many scouts and coaches. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick on just when Crawford will wind up being a former Reading Fightin' Phil and become a current Lehigh Valley IronPig.
J.P. Crawford's 2016 Spray Chart