J.P. Crawford continuing to hit his way toward a promotion


J.P. Crawford continuing to hit his way toward a promotion

READING, Pa. — J.P. Crawford has met every challenge the Phillies have thrown his way thus far. Why should Double A be any different?

The answer is it hasn't. The 21-year-old shortstop is doing at Reading in 2016 what he's done at every other level of the Phillies organization: produce. Through 17 games, Crawford is tied for seventh in the Eastern League in runs (12) and hits (19) as well as tied for fourth in on-base percentage (.418). His batting average (.292) is 27 points higher and his OBP a whopping 64 points better than last season at this level.

If this keeps up, Crawford is fast headed for another promotion. The Phillies' top prospect could be on his way to Triple A Lehigh Valley — and only one step from the majors — in a matter of weeks. Yet despite his continued success, he isn't concerning himself with what comes next.

"You don't worry about that," said Crawford. "You just gotta go out there every day and focus where you're at, focus on that nine, trying to help your team get a W. That's all I'm worried about right now."

And aid his team in a win is exactly what Crawford did on Monday at First Energy Park in Reading, crossing the plate twice in a 7-4 victory.

"I'm sticking with the plan, I'm seeing good pitches, and I'm just executing on the pitches I want to swing at, finding the barrel and just going with it."

It was an otherwise inconspicuous line for Crawford, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in the contest. Still, he often finds ways to make his presence felt even when he isn't tearing the cover off of the ball.

Though he has just five extra-base hits, Crawford has reached base safely with a hit or walk in all but two games this season. The free pass was his 14th, which is good for third in the league. He works deep counts, is comfortable hitting with two strikes and shows tremendous patience, seeing five or more pitches in three of his four at bats on Monday.

"You've gotta know what the pitcher is throwing that day and just stick with the plan," Crawford said of his approach. "If it's a pitch you can't handle early in the count, you just don't swing and wait for your pitch."

Plate discipline has long been a calling card of Crawford's. He's walked (174) more than he's struck out (173) in his four-year minor-league career. At his age and experience level, that's also partly what makes him such a unique prospect.

"It's outstanding for a young hitter," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "He's patient at the plate, he's aggressive when he needs to be, when he wants to be. He just knows how to hit his pitch and put the barrel on the ball.

"He's a special player. He's got a special knack for being able to do that. That's why he is where he is right now."

Crawford demonstrates remarkable poise for a young athlete who's risen through the Phillies' farm system as quickly as he has. His path to the majors has been practically inevitable and he's all but been anointed one of the saviors of the franchise. Cousin of four-time MLB All-Star Carl Crawford, son to four-time Canadian Football League All-Star Larry Crawford, J.P. could choose to view professional baseball and future accolades almost as a birthright.

Instead, the 2013 first-round draft pick comes across as humble and dedicated. Asked whether he envisions himself as a fixture on the Phillies' 25-man roster this time next year, Crawford spoke as if that were an attainable goal for anybody in his situation.

"I'm pretty sure everybody does, but I just keep putting in the work I'm doing every day, just keep getting stronger, keep getting better, something everyday and I think I've got a good shot."

No doubt, Crawford's teammates in Reading would love to be on the same fast track to the big leagues. As it turns out, he's the only of them who is widely considered one of the top five prospects in all of baseball right now. He's also the only one who's drawn comparisons to longtime Phillies shortstop and franchise all-time hits leader Jimmy Rollins.

"Yeah, but you've gotta put in the work, put in the work everyday, and just go about your business so maybe one day I can be that guy," Crawford says, deftly batting away such lofty parallels.

Crawford seems as patient for his moment in the spotlight as he is standing in the batter's box waiting for his pitch. The reality is he probably won't have to wait long, with a September call-up well within sight at his current rate.

In fact, Crawford already got his first small taste of the show this year as a Phillies spring training invitee, culminating with the futures game at Citizens Bank Park, describing the experience and fan ovation as "unreal."

"You've been dreaming of that day since you got drafted, and just finally being on that field and playing over there — I can't wait to get up there."

It was a rare moment of impatience for Crawford. Fortunately, he probably won't have to wait a whole lot longer.

Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

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Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

Gabe Kapler on Friday added to his coaching staff by naming Jim Gott the Phillies' bullpen coach.

Gott was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Angels the last five seasons and the pitching coach for the Arizona League Angels the three years prior to that role.

He played for the Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Dodgers over 14 major-league seasons as a starter and reliever. Gott, now 58 years old, compiled a 3.87 ERA while making 96 starts and converting 91 saves.

Kapler and the Phillies still need to name a pitching coach and first-base coach. Last week, they named Dusty Wathan third-base coach and hired John Mallee as hitting coach, while retaining Rick Kranitz, who was the assistant pitching coach last season (see story). He could fill the main pitching coach vacancy, although his role is currently to be determined.

In 2017, Bob McClure served the Phillies as pitching coach and Mickey Morandini was first-base coach.

MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

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MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve has won the American League MVP award, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Altuve batted a major league-best .346. He hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base.

The 6-foot-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. He set a rookie record with 52 home runs.

Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished third. The award was announced Thursday.

Altuve helped lead the Astros to their first World Series championship. Voting for these honors was completed before the postseason began.

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP award, barely edging Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

In the closest MVP vote since 1979, Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs (see full story).

MLB: Manfred says pace changes will happen with or without union
Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

There are ongoing talks for a new posting system with Japan to replace the deal that expired Nov. 1, one that would allow star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani to leave the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters to sign with a big league team (see full story).

Mariners: Team makes trade, raises available money for Japan's Otani​
The Seattle Mariners have gained more flexibility if they want to try to sign star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani.

They acquired an additional $500,000 for their international signing bonus pool from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira.

Otani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.

The 24-year-old Vieira made his major league debut with a scoreless inning against Baltimore on Aug. 14, his only big league appearance. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 3.72 ERA in 29 games this year for Double-A Arkansas and 0-1 with two saves and a 4.58 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Chicago is restricted to a maximum $300,000 signing bonus because it exceeded its pool in a previous year under the old labor contract.