Almost since the day he arrived at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, fans have been clamoring for shortstop J.P. Crawford to make the jump to the majors. Crawford has been the shortstop of the future since being selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 Draft out of Lakewood High School in California. He split last season between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, hitting a combined .288 with the two teams. After opening this season at Reading, Crawford came to Lehigh Valley after playing in 36 Double-A games and batting .265 with the Fightins.
After a slow start that saw Crawford batting as low as .153 on June 10, 19 games into his season with the IronPigs, the 21-year old has upped his average to .264 in 55 games. Crawford went into a streak that saw him hit all three of his home runs at Triple-A in a seven-game span earlier this month, and he's batting .333 in the month of July. If fans wanted him in Philadelphia before, they certainly want him there now.
Another name that fans are interested in seeing put on a Phillies uniform is catcher Andrew Knapp, The 24-year old Knapp has been with Lehigh Valley all season and has had some ups and downs to his season, but has shown steady progress of late, upping his average to .270 in 70 games with the IronPigs. Since June 1st, Knapp is batting .301 for Lehigh Valley, but the added average has come at the price of some home runs. Knapp hit six of his seven home runs in the first two months of the season and has just one since the start of June.
Defensively, there has been key improvements made by Knapp, who has thrown out 32-percent of would-be basestealers this season, good enough for fifth in the International League.
As recently as three weeks ago, IronPigs manager Dave Brundage said he was impressed with his two young players, but didn't feel they were quite ready to take that ride down the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to play in Philadelphia.
"I wouldn't say they're ready for the majors," admitted Brundage. "But I've seen improvements in their development and that's what you want to see. Knapp is a better catcher than what he was at the start of the season, but it doesn't mean he's major league ready. He'd be the first to tell you, but I'd certainly be a lot more comfortable with him. Crawford's learning along the way and understanding. He's still got a ways to go with the bat, but I've been very impressed with his defense. It's just getting more comfortable at the plate, and that will come. I think there's more in there offensively than what he's shown so far."
An opposing scout agreed with Brundage's assessment.
"Without being privy to talking to them and picking their brain on how they're approaching the game and what's going on in their head, I would say that those guys still have some work to do. You just want to see some consistency, and that's more than a month or six weeks, you want to see that day-in and day-out for half-a-season, if possible," he said. "That doesn't mean that if you put them in the majors now, that they would fail, but it would be tougher than if they're given some time to get that extra seasoning."
Another player who fans want to see is Nick Williams, who, at times, can be as exciting as any player in the organization. The problem is again, with the consistency. Watching Williams on a steady basis, there are times when he seems to be taking a play off, something which has gotten him into trouble with Brundage on two separate occasions this season. In the first instance, Williams was rather nonchalant going after a fly ball in the outfield and it wound up costing the team. Brundage benched Williams for a couple games and it wasn't long after that he jogged down to first on a ground ball, again drawing the ire of Brundage and putting himself on the bench for another game. Prior to both of those instances was the time he threw off his helmet and slid into home after hitting a walk-off home run and another weak moment when he attempted to bunt with his team up eight runs, which precipitated a near-brawl with the Durham Bulls.
"You can see by watching him, that there's some immaturity there," said the scout. "You can't do that, you can't take plays off, because it will cost the team at some point and you simply can't reward a guy that's doing that with a promotion to the majors. He has a ton of talent and at some point, he'll shake off the urge to show off and put it all together."
So if Crawford, Knapp and Williams aren't quite ready, is there anybody who is? Enter Jake Thompson.
The right-hander has seen perhaps the most impressive stretch of any pitcher in the nine-year history of the IronPigs, including Tyler Cloyd in 2012, when he was named the International League Pitcher of the Year. The numbers for Thompson's last nine starts are simply staggering. All nine of the starts have been quality starts and Thompson has averaged just under seven innings per outing (62 1/3 IP overall) in those nine games, while posting a WHIP of 0.93 and an opponent's batting average of just .195 in those games. His ERA for his last nine starts is minuscule at just 0.58 (4 ER in 62 1/3 IP) and he has struck out 37 hitters while walking just 17.
One stat that has gone somewhat unnoticed on Thompson's line are an International League leading 23 double-plays that he has gotten hitters to hit into this season. If getting on base against Thompson is tough, staying there is just as tough.
Thompson is ready and when - not if - the Phillies trade Jeremy Hellickson before the end of the month, Thompson will slip right into the Phillies rotation. After all, it's no coincidence that Hellickson and Thompson are on the same day in the two teams pitching rotations since the all-star break. Trading Hellickson will be as much about simply opening a spot for Thompson as it will be getting prospects in exchange for the 29-year old right-hander who is a free agent at the end of the season.
"I've seen him pitch three times now this season," reported one scout. "The first time was early in the year and what I saw then is completely different from what I'm seeing now. He just wasn't quite right early on, but he has made the adjustment to Triple-A and is probably better than a lot of pitchers who are already pitching - and succeeding - in the majors. What impresses me is that while he's not getting a ton of strikeouts, hitters just don't get good wood on the ball, so with any decent defense behind him, he's fine. He's at that point where there's not much more he can do at this level, so you need to move him along."
Two other names drawing some attention are right-hander Ben Lively and outfielder Cam Perkins, although neither are deemed quite ready at this point, nor are they in the prospect class of the other Lehigh Valley prospects.
At Double-A Reading, catcher Jorge Alfaro is already getting close to being major league ready, at least according to one scout.
"I look at Alfaro and I see a kid who has the tools and knows how to use them. He's just so poised and you see a guy who is in control of the game both when he's at the plate and behind the plate," he said. "I do think some time at Triple-A is going to help him, but I don't think he'll need much time there before he convinces people that he's ready."