(Photo of J.P. Crawford by Cheryl Pursell)
For some time, the heir apparent at shortstop has always been J.P. Crawford. The talk was what to do with Freddy Galvis. Make him a super-utility guy? Move him to second base? Trade him? Then came the 2016 season.
In that season, Galvis showed some power numbers, hitting 20 home runs for the Phillies. His average dipped to just .241 and his on-base percentage was a mere .274, but the power increase was impressive. As usual, his defense was spectacular, among the best in the majors, and possibly, the best in the majors.
Meanwhile, Crawford was hitting .265 at Reading when the Phillies decided to challenge him and promote him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Over the rest of the season, the top prospect – at least at that time – in the organization hit just .244 with the IronPigs, with a .326 OBP. His defense was stellar at times, while at other times he looked like a guy new to the position, letting routine plays go unmade.
Crawford’s star dipped a little, but he was still the guy for the future.
Then came the 2017 season.
Galvis’ power numbers are a little off his 2016 pace – one home run for every 29.2 at-bats last season versus one for every 32.3 this season – and his average and on-base numbers have risen just slightly (.254/.303). The big increase this season has been the increased leadership that Galvis has provided on a team desperately lacking in that area.
At Lehigh Valley, Crawford spent the first three months in somewhat of a free-fall. If he were a lesser prospect, he likely would have been benched or sent back to Double-A Reading, but since he remains near the top of most prospect rankings, the Phillies simply stuck with him. Manager Dusty Wathan talked about how he “hits everything hard,” and was “close to putting it all together.”
At the end of April, Crawford was hitting .145 and it wouldn’t be until May 28th that he would peak his head above the .200 mark, moving to .201 after a 2-for-2 day and a stretch where he went 8-for-14 (.571) was his supposed coming-out party, but a 1-for-19 (.053) skid put him back down to .193. Not long after that, a groin injury, which some believe was nothing more than some mental health days, kept him out of eight straight games. Whatever it was, it seemed to help.
On June 23rd, a 1-for-4 day put him exactly at the .200 mark and Crawford has straightened himself out well since then. In his last 30 games, Crawford has hit .287 (33-for-115) with six home runs and 19 RBI. His OBP in that span is an impressive .374.
The question remains, which player is J.P. Crawford? Did it just take him over a year at Triple-A to adjust to the better pitching?
“I think he’s gotten things straightened out and he’s playing much better,” said Wathan before the team left on their recent road trip, which has seen Crawford go 9-for-27 (.333) in the six games that he’s played. “The good news for J.P. is that there’s pretty much season left, so he has a chance to pull his numbers up.”
With 41 games left to play in the season, should Crawford play over that span the way that he has in his last 30 games, his average would finish somewhere around the .250 mark on the season. Of course, the talk would be about how well he played over the last half of the season, not about the overall numbers.
So, which way do the Phillies go in their shortstop dilemma?
If you believe, which I do, that the two players are basically a wash offensively, you look at other things. Defensively, Galvis is a much better and much more consistent shortstop. Crawford is good, but as his 15 errors this season attest, he’s not Freddy Galvis. When it comes to leadership, Crawford hasn’t shown the type of leadership in his time in the minors that Galvis has shown in the majors. Some of that may be attributed to immaturity, the rest to simply not having the true leadership gene.
Baserunning? Both have the ability to take an extra base. When it comes to swiping bases, Galvis has the edge, but Crawford has the definite potential to steal more bases and stolen bases could eventually be a wash.
Galvis is 27, Crawford is 22. Chalk up some of Crawford’s struggles to youth and chalk up some of Galvis emergence over the past couple of seasons can be attributed to simply hitting his prime, with a healthy dose of getting to play every day helping his cause. Ironically, Galvis reached the majors at age 22, and he struggled through his first three seasons, during which he played a total of 171 games. From 2012-2014, Galvis hit 13-55-.218/.259/.362 with the Phillies.
Galvis had one advantage that Crawford won’t have and it’s a huge advantage. When Galvis came up, he wasn’t as highly touted as Crawford and the book on him was that he was good defensively, but offense? Not so much. As such, he was relegated to a basic utility role during those three seasons and was able to get his feet wet and adapt to playing in the majors. by the time Jimmy Rollins was expendable, Galvis was ready to step in.
When Crawford comes to the majors, it’s not going to be as a utility player. If he arrives this September, he might not play every day, but come next Spring, if Crawford is on the 25-man roster, he’s not going to be a utility player. He’ll be thrown right into the fray and if he struggles, his time in Philadelphia isn’t going to be enjoyable. Crawford’s mentality is made up of a lot of attitude, and he may be able to handle the criticism, but it wouldn’t be easy for any player, because while Philadelphia fans aren’t as bad as we’re made out to be, we’re tough. We expect a top prospect to produce when he gets to the majors.
Galvis is making $4.35-million this season and is eligible for arbitration following the season and for free agency following next season. Crawford has no major league service time and no matter what, will be added to the major league roster following the season to protect him in the Rule 5 Draft, even if the Phillies don’t bring him to Philly this September.
If the brain trust in Philadelphia has made their decision already, then they could do something quickly. As in now, by the end of the month. Either Galvis or Crawford could be dealt to another organization, clearing the way for the other to be an every day player. The Phillies could also go back to the plan of dealing Cesar Hernandez and moving Galvis to second, an idea that they explored with little success during the Winter. They also have to consider that Galvis’ job would again be in jeopardy thanks to the blossoming of second base prospect Scott Kingery. If they decide to keep Galvis, then they want to move quickly to lock him up on a longer term deal. Worst case scenario would be to go from two shortstops now to none following the 2018 season.
It’s also possible – very possible – that the Phillies could drag the decision out for another year. If Crawford truly has figured out Triple-A pitching, he can hit his ass off for Lehigh Valley next season and the Phillies can look to trade Galvis at the 2018 trade deadline. That gives things time to play out and it also saves a little service time for Crawford.
For now, waiting and giving the situation every possible chance to more fully reveal itself is the right plan. Truth is, we’re not sure just who J.P. Crawford is. Some scouts still see him as a solid major league player – nobody is using the phrase ‘impact player’ – while others believe he’s not going to be the guy that many thought he would be earlier in his career. Time is on the Phillies side on this one. Let patience be a virtue.