Projecting J.P. Crawford

With September call-up season upon us, the Phillies have summoned top prospect J.P. Crawford from the minor leagues. He made his debut last night, starting at third base and notching his first career hit. Prior to his call up, Crawford hit .243/.351/.405 in Triple-A this year, including a powerful .284/.385/.517 since July 8th.

Crawford is an extremely talented player who can provide value in more ways than one. His minor-league batting lines don’t necessarily jump off the page, but in the context of his age and defensive value, they’re rather impressive. That’s why he’s been appearing near the tops of prospect lists — including KATOH’s — for years. Baseball America ranked him among the top-14 prospects each of the last three seasons, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him No. 4 each of the last two. Eric Longenhagen ranked him No. 9 in the preseason and No. 34 in his summer list.

Offensively, Crawford does an excellent job of controlling the strike zone. He’s walked roughly as often as he’s struck out as a minor leaguer, which enables him to get on base at a solid clip. He hasn’t hit for too much power, but given everything else he does well, a mid-.100s ISO is more than acceptable.

Crawford isn’t just any shortstop, either. He’s regarded as a good defender at a position chock-full of excellent defenders. Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen gave both his glove and arm future grades of 60 on the 20-80 scale. Clay Davenport’s numbers, meanwhile, have him average or better in each of the last three seasons. Even if Crawford’s bat sputters, he could still provide value on the defensive side of things. And if he hits, he’ll be extremely valuable.

My KATOH system pegs Crawford for 11.7 WAR over his first six seasons by the stats-only method and 12.2 WAR by KATOH+, which incorporates his No. 92 midseason rank from Baseball America. Those marks place him 15th and seventh, respectively, among prospects.

To put some faces to Crawford’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Crawford’s Triple-A performance and every Triple-A season since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

J.P. Crawford’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Alex “Sea-Bass” Gonzalez 7.7 4.8
2 Omar Infante 8.3 3.4
3 Dustin Pedroia 8.4 30.1
4 Bobby Crosby 11.5 8.1
5 D’Angelo Jimenez 13.2 7.4
6 Melvin Upton 12.6 22.4
7 Alcides Escobar 9.3 10.4
8 Jimmy Rollins 16.3 19.1
9 Alex S. Gonzalez 14.0 6.2
10 Damian Jackson 6.2 5.4

It’s been a rough few years for the Phillies, and they likely still have a ways to go before they’re competitive again. But their current wave of young talent should help them right the ship. Former KATOH darling Rhys Hoskins has hit like a Hall of Famer since his debut, and Crawford gives them another exciting youngster to build around. As a young shortstop who plays solid defense and can also hit a little bit, Crawford is a player who could move the needle in a big way and figures to hold down a spot in their infield for years to come.

We hoped you liked reading Projecting J.P. Crawford by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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That huge 7-10 WAR range gives you a sense of why everyone is so high on Crawford. There’s a very good chance he’s going to hit at least a little bit, letting him provide the value with his glove that Chris mentions. Very high floor. And the Jimmy Rollins comp–a league average hitter with a great glove–doesn’t sound crazy at all.