May 12, 2016
TRENTON – J.P. Crawford may or may not graduate from the minor leagues to the major leagues later this summer.
But his current manager, Dusty Wathan, doesn’t think it’ll be too long before Crawford jumps from his current spot in Double-A Reading’s lineup to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
“I think we’re pretty close to getting him out of here,” Wathan said before Reading’s game at Trenton on Thursday. “He’s done what he need to do, I think. He’s got a few more things to prove to get where he wants to go and where we want him to go as an organization, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you saw something in the next couple of weeks.”
Wathan said Crawford has spent about the same amount of time with Reading this year as he had in Class A Clearwater last spring before earning that promotion. Crawford, who only turned 21 in January, began last season on the disabled list but was still able to jump to Double-A after just 21 games in Clearwater.
He is coming up on his one-year anniversary with Reading (Crawford arrived on May 30, 2015).
“I feel like I’m playing well right now,” Crawford said when asked what he still felt he had to prove at Double-A. “I’m doing everything I can each day.”
Probably the most remarkable thing Crawford has done in Double-A – and really throughout his three years as a pro – is show off a mature approach at the plate. Crawford entered Thursday night with more walks (185) than strikeouts (184) in 313 minor league games.
Since arriving at Reading last year, Crawford has 74 walks and 66 strikeouts in 116 Double-A games
“It’s a big thing to look at for young hitter especially and it’s a hard thing to teach, patience at the plate,” Wathan said. “He knows the strike zone better than any player I’ve had. When J.P. doesn’t think it’s a strike, I have a hard time believing that he’s wrong. He’ll tell me, that ball was a half inch off the plate, that ball is an inch off the plate. And I’ll say, ‘I think this kid is crazy.’ And then I’ll go back and look (at video) and I’ll go, 'I think he’s right.'”
“Most guys you go, ‘Yeah, OK.’ But he’s right most of the time. And as the umpiring gets better and more consistent and he develops himself into a more mature player, it’s only going to get better. He puts himself in a good hitters count ALL the time.”
Crawford said he’s always been a patient hitter, even going back to high school.
“I’ve always taking walks when they’re given to me,” he said. “Because if you get on base, you steal second, and then they get you over and it’s a run."
Many evaluators say the one area of Crawford’s game that needs to improve is his consistency in the field. He entered play Thursday with seven errors in 30 starts at shortstop this season (and two in his last three games).
“I think half of them should have been hits,” Crawford said bluntly on Thursday.
“I’d say maybe two (this season) are sloppy errors,” Wathan said. “To me, that’s no big deal. Errors are going to happen, physical errors. You just try to get rid of the sloppy errors and I think he’s gotten rid of the sloppy errors. It’s something he’s concentrated on and he’s gotten better at as we go.”
Needless to say, on a roster full of prospects both in his lineup and in the rotation, Wathan doesn’t often have to worry about Crawford.
“From a player development standpoint, we can see him doing things the right way,” Wathan said. “He’s progressing the right way. We’re really happy with what’s going on. He’s a young player, still one of the youngest in this league, and he’s playing great.”
Crawford entered Thursday hitting .257 with a .391 OBP, two home runs, six doubles and four stolen bases in 30 games this season. Among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Crawford’s OBP ranked fifth in the Eastern League.
The Phillies farm system has seen an influx of arms since the organization committed to a rebuild through a series of trades in the last 17 months. One of the first pitchers to arrive, right-hander Ben Lively, is thriving in his second season at Double-A Reading.
The 24-year-old Lively, who came over from the Cincinnati Reds in the Marlon Byrd trade, is 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA and .925 WHIP in seven starts. Both his ERA and WHIP rank fourth among starters who have made at least five starts in the Eastern League.
After allowing 14 home runs in 25 starts last season (only three Eastern League pitchers allowed more), Lively has allowed just one this season, and it came in his first inning of the 2016 season. He hasn’t allowed one in his last 39 innings.
“He’s thrown more balls this year down in the strike zone in this short period of time than I probably saw him throw all of last year,” Wathan said. “He was a guy who pitched high in the strike zone last year, and paid the price for it sometimes. He has a ball that’ll ride up a little bit. If it’s not up and out of the zone, they’ll make some hard contact on him. He’s made the adjustment and it’s making all of his other pitches better, too.”
Last week, Lively was named the Phillies minor league pitcher of the month.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro, who recently returned from a DL stint with an oblique injury, entered Thursday hitting .451 (23-for-51) with a home run, a triple, and six doubles in 12 games.
The only thing that might be more impressive than those numbers through a dozen games was the praise from his manager.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player play as hard as him, especially being a catcher,” Wathan said. “He’s going to run every ball out, he’s going to try for a double every single time, and for a guy that does that at a demanding position. When this guy gets to Philadelphia, people are going to love him. The people are going to love the way he plays baseball. I love watching him.”
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