Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 3

Time will tell, but first impression is that Cincinnati got a nice return when payroll constraints forced the trade of all-star pitcher Alfredo Simon. The big name acquired was 2013 first-rounder Jonathan Crawford who is coming off a solid season in low-A.

As this countdown enters the final three you can call it a sucker for a first-round draft choice that’s done everything expected in his minor league career thus far. Jonathon Crawford was one of the highest rated prospects in the Detroit system before he came to Cincinnati over the offseason in the trade for Alfredo Simon. Actually, the other part of the deal, Eugenio Suarez, was also one of the higher rated Tiger prospects before his rookie status was exhausted last year and down the road this deal might turn out to be a big winner for the Reds. Dealing away part of their rotation was likely motivated by budget limitations and they lost an all-star pitcher in Simon. However, he will turn 34 this season and he’s only had one effective year as a starter after spending most of his time in their bullpen. Regardless, getting three solid seasons of service before swapping him for a couple of young players with nice value was definitely a windfall on their investment when the Reds picked him up from waivers from Baltimore in 2010.

Now back to Crawford: The 6’2”/205# right-hander was the 20th overall selection in the 2013 draft out of the University of Florida. He was picked in the 42nd round by the Marlins when he came out of high school, so opting to pursue a collegiate career definitely benefitted him. Oddly his best season with the Gators was his sophomore year before his fastball mysteriously lost a few ticks when he was a junior. After signing he made eight starts in the New York-Penn League and finished with an ERA under two. Last year Detroit sent him to West Michigan in the Midwest League when he put up another solid season, going 8-3/2.85.

Now he’s 23 years old and probably headed to the Reds new high-A affiliate in Daytona. At his age they may consider skipping him a level to Pensacola, but there appears to be some more polish needed to his game. His walk rate was a bit high at 3.7/9 inns last season and he strikeout rate plummeted down to 6.2/9 last year compared to one that was 50% higher in 19 NYPL innings in 2013. As a result his K/BB ratio was only 1.70. He did fare well preventing hitters from making good contact and finished with a nice WHIP below 1.2.

Though they are valid concerns, there is good reason to believe Crawford’s velocity can return back to the mid-90’s range with more consistency to his delivery. Right now his best pitch is a slider that arrives in the mid-80’s with good movement. He’s also working on a changeup that needs improvement if he is to remain a starter.

The top of Cincinnati prospect list is crowded with starting pitchers. No organization can expect a 100% success rate on turning prospects into effective MLBers, but the more irons they have in the fire, the better chances of having enough hit to provide a solid rotation. Crawford profiles as a mid-rotation pitcher if he regains velocity and develops his third offering. If not, his floor still projects as a set-up role out of the bullpen. In spite of the deficiencies, he’s been successful minor leaguer thus far and gives good reason to believe he can realize much of his remaining upside. He’ll be a non-roster invite to Cincinnati’s spring training where he’ll resume down that road in 2015.

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