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2018 Player Profile: J.P. Crawford

With the 2017 season now officially in the rearview mirror, and with the Houston Astros first-time champions, we turn our attention to the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Each week, I will be evaluating one player’s stock for this year. This week, a top shortstop prospect whose fantasy stock has plummeted in recent years, but who remains of some interest as a deep-league sleeper.

J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies

2017 statistics (Triple-A): .243/.351/.405, 15 HR, 75 R, 63 RBI, 5 SB

General Overview

Crawford has garnered ample attention in prospect circles ever since being selected 16th overall by the Phillies in the 2013 draft out of a California high school. His stock hit its high point sometime around 2016, when he ranked atop the Phillies’ farm system, according to both Baseball America and Fangraphs, ranking as the ninth-best prospect in baseball last March, according to Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen. He never profiled as quite as exciting a prospect for fantasy purposes, though. His projected plus glove at shortstop and fantastic plate discipline are the kind of eminently valuable real-world skills that do not show up in most fantasy leagues, so as Eric Cross noted in his ongoing ranking of the top prospects for dynasty leagues, he was likely overrated in fantasy circles. As Cross also points out, though, his stock has plummeted over the past year, and he now actually presents a potential buy-low opportunity, coming off the board 27th on average at the shortstop position. With Freddy Galvis having been traded to San Diego this offseason, the Phillies are ready to give Crawford the position full-time, and there are some reasons to believe that, relative to where is he currently being selected in drafts, he could offer some sneaky value as soon as 2018.

2017 Performance

Crawford’s 2017 season was a tale of two halves. After an abysmal first half that included a .446 OPS in April and a .582 mark in June, Crawford took off offensively from July onward, hitting 13 of his 15 home runs over the next two-plus months. That tear earned him a brief MLB promotion, where, despite continuing to demonstrate promising plate discipline, he struggled offensively. That said, his minor-league production offered some room for hope, as he finally began to tap into some power that he had never before shown. Further, despite hitting only .243 last season at Lehigh Valley (and .214 in his brief MLB stint), he offered elite bat-to-ball skills and an ability to hit the ball in the air, which gives him a bit more upside in both batting average and power output than his basic totals may otherwise indicate.

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The knock on Crawford as a fantasy player has long been that he does not have a standout offensive tool beyond the plate discipline. And while his power began to show up last season, his batting average stayed sufficiently low, so a quick glance at his player page would not indicate many reasons for hope. Indeed, over the past three seasons at the higher levels of the minor leagues, his batting averages have been quite mediocre. Still, he has long kept down his strikeout totals, and, last season, he ranked 8th out of 202 International League players (minimum 150 plate appearances) in swinging strike rate, demonstrating elite bat-to-ball skills and reaffirming his reputation for having fantastic plate discipline. Most of the players near him atop that swinging strike rate list were contact-only utility types who slapped weakly-hit ground balls across the diamond. Crawford, on the other hand, showed a rare ability to lift the ball, particularly pull-side, which gives him some legitimate home run upside, particularly noteworthy given that MLB’s spike in home runs has not manifested itself at the same level in the minor leagues, as Ben Lindbergh noted in a June 2017 piece for The Ringer. A player who makes contact and pulls fly balls could, quite arguably, be more valuable at the major-league level than he was in the minors because of how much farther the major-league ball has been traveling. This is especially true for players who have mediocre exit velocity and who play in hitter-friendly home parks, with the Yankees Didi Gregorius a prime example of this type of player: one whose MLB power output significantly outpaces anything that he has done in the minors. Fortunately, Crawford fits this mold.

In their 2018 prospect rankings, Fangraphs’ Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel placed a 50-grade (league-average) on Crawford’s raw power. As Lindbergh also points out in the above-referenced piece, players with average raw power are the ones whom the league-wide home run spike has benefited the most, as balls that used to die fairly deep into the outfield are now more likely to just clear the fence. This seems particularly applicable in Citizens Bank Park, where a short right-field fence plays very well for left-handed home run power. Since Crawford seems to have developed more into a pull hitter in his most recent minor-league time, he may be in a position to take advantage of this, and, with a projected below-average strikeout rate because of his contact skills, he could also offer some unexpected batting average production. He has always hit for low batting averages on balls in play, seemingly due to a longstanding trouble with pop-ups, and his willingness to work deep counts can increase his strikeout totals a bit more than his extremely low swing-and-miss rates would indicate, so he will never be a .300 hitter. That said, there is some reason to believe that he will not be a liability in the average or home run departments, and he offers some upside in other categories as well. He is not an elite stolen base threat, but he does have above-average pure speed according to Statcast, and he may end up with double-digit per year stolen base totals. Further, his patient approach could lead to some high runs scored totals, as Crawford’s high walk rates should allow him to reach base quite frequently on a Phillies offense that should be massively more productive than it was last year, with a full season from Rhys Hoskins and the addition of Carlos Santana.

2018 Outlook

Crawford is, of course, not without risk, and much of his fantasy value relies on an admittedly optimistic projection of his ability to sustain the offensive strides that he made last season and the favorableness of the modern MLB to this style of player. There is a very real possibility that his power does not prove sustainable, that his low-BABIP tendencies make him too much of a batting average liability, or even that his collection of useful but unexciting attributes does not make him a worthwhile add regardless. Despite all of this, there are things about Crawford to like beyond just his defensive profile. For a player who is going undrafted in a significant percentage of fantasy leagues, he seems worthy of a gamble. He is, like some other players profiled here recently, a deep-league projection play more than a past history gamble. However, fantasy success often relies on being the first person to successfully take a chance on a player with an otherwise modest track record. J.P. Crawford may be one of those worthwhile bets.

2018 Player Profiles

A.J. Pollock

Stephen Piscotty

Dexter Fowler

Domingo Santana

Ian Kinsler

Josh Bell

Xander Bogaerts

Andrelton Simmons

Starling Marte

Greg Bird

Zack Godley

Nicholas Castellanos

Lance McCullers, Jr.

Alex Bregman

Chris Taylor

Tommy Pham

Carlos Carrasco

Rhys Hoskins

Jackie Bradley, Jr. 

Josh Harrison

Wilmer Flores

Christian Yelich

Jake Lamb

Scooter Gennett

Marwin Gonzalez

Ozzie Albies

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