Before we get into this, let’s make a couple things perfectly clear: First, I don’t know anything. I haven’t talked to JP or his coaches. I haven’t talked to other players or to scouts. I don’t have any inside sources on this one (because sometimes I do) and I haven’t talked with anyone–below is merely observation and me taking pieces and pressing them together in puzzle-fashion to try to see what kind of picture it shows me. I’ve seen Crawford at most of the home Reading games this season, as well as all of the home IronPigs games.
So what do we know? Well, we know that as of last night’s game he’s hitting .153/.265/.181 over 19 games since arriving at AAA. We know that he’s had two doubles, no triples and no home runs. We know that he’s walked 11 times in 72 at-bats and struck out 15 times. Finally, we know that the squad in Reading has gone 17-5 since Crawford was promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley.
What we don’t know is why, exactly. So let’s take a look at JP’s game a bit. He’s moved quickly through the Phillies’ system since he was drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the 2013 draft. His fielding has always been good–in fact, he’s not committed an error in his time with the IronPigs. However, what has propelled him up the ranks of the minor leagues–as well as the ranks of “top prospects”–is his command of the strike zone at the plate. His manager at Reading, Dusty Wathan, often remarked in interviews that JP has a better idea of the strike zone than the umpires. So far at AAA, we’ve observed that, as a particularly bad crew was in town recently and many of our better hitters had the same problem. Because of his command of the strike zone, Crawford has been able to put himself in excellent position to hit–a favorable count–more times than not. He’s very confident, which also allows him to be a very patient hitter–one of the best with two strikes, I’ve heard folks say.
So now we get into my direct observations:
Crawford will very, very often take the first pitch. Why not? Get a look at one and on we go. Like we said, JP is not afraid to hit with one or two strikes. While the umpires haven’t been a tremendous improvement at AAA, the pitchers have been. It matters not if they’re pitching him forwards or backwards, an 0-1 count is common. What follows on the subsequent pitches is Crawford trying to put himself in a position to get a good pitch to hit. It’s advanced, and he’s good at it. The problem is, even with a hitter’s count, AAA pitchers are not afraid to throw garbage pitches. The sliders and slurves, the hooks and change-ups, are fed over the plate time and time again–especially to young players in AAA. Getting a juicy fastball to swing at is not a guarantee. Some of this garbage is freezing JP for a strike-out or causing him to take a second strike because they are not very often attractive pitches to drive–and some is causing him to pop up or weakly ground out. It’s happening over and over again.
Now, I’m not saying he can’t hit that stuff. I think he can, and he will. I just think he needs to get used to seeing it, seeing it in different counts, and he needs to punish pitchers for feeding it to him. It will come. It will come with more time at the plate, and more exposure to pitches. He’ll begin to recognize this stuff and take advantage of it. It’s exactly what a young player needs from AAA experience.
And all this hasn’t been without a bit of bad luck, as well. In the last home stand, he crushed a ball right at the first-baseman who was playing slightly out of position too far towards second base to be consistent with the rest of the infield shift. It should have been a triple to the corner, but was instead a loud out. He’s had a few of those.
So we’ll relax, and we’ll wait. Because once JP starts punishing these pitchers, they’ll be forced to go back to the fast balls and he’ll be on fire. We’ll need to enjoy that, too, because we won’t have it for long–that hitting will be in Philadelphia pretty quickly after that.
We’re cheering for you JP; I think today’s a good day for hitting.