Phillies plan to play J.P. Crawford as much as possible down the stretch

Phillies plan to play J.P. Crawford as much as possible down the stretch

NEW YORK — From the front office on down, the Phillies organization is eager to take a look at prospect J.P. Crawford and get a gauge on whether he could be part of the big-league roster in April.

So it was no surprise that Crawford, on his first day in the majors, was in the team's starting lineup, batting seventh and playing third base against the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Crawford, 22, will play a lot over the final 25 games of this season that was from the outset dedicated to finding out who will be part of the future and who won't.

"I won't say every day, but as much as I can," manager Pete Mackanin said before Tuesday night's game. "The whole idea is to get his feet wet up here."

Crawford, considered by many to be the Phillies' top prospect from the time he was selected 16th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft, is a shortstop by trade. At the moment, the Phillies are more concerned with getting him at-bats than they are time at shortstop. That's why he recently began learning to play third base. He will play that position, and also some second base, this month.

Mackanin projected that Crawford would play "five or six" games at shortstop. That means Freddy Galvis may not play in all of the team's 162 games, as is his goal. Galvis, the Phils' starting shortstop since the start of 2015, has played Gold Glove-caliber defense this season, but he entered Tuesday night with an on-base percentage of just .304. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is committed to building his team around players with strong on-base skills. Crawford has them. His career on-base percentage in the minors is .367. All of this points to Galvis or third baseman Maikel Franco being shopped for a wintertime trade that would open a spot for Crawford. Franco, who carries a .278 on-base percentage, was bounced from the lineup in favor of Crawford on Tuesday night. Regardless of where Crawford plays next season, he still profiles as the team's shortstop of the future. Galvis will be a free agent after next season.

If Galvis, 27, feels as if he is being pushed out, he hasn't revealed it — at least publicly. He has said all the right things (see story). He welcomed Crawford to the clubhouse with a hug Tuesday afternoon and was seen giving his left-side-infield partner some tips between innings during the game.

"Freddy has been very good about it," Mackanin said. "Right now he’s our shortstop and that’s the way I look at it. We’re getting a look at the other kid, just like we found a spot for (Rhys) Hoskins (in left field) to try to get a look at him. We know Crawford can play shortstop and we feel that he’s going to be a good shortstop. At the same time, he has to get a taste of the major leagues. Eventually he’s going to be here. So it’s a good way to do it. Last year, (Ryan) Howard had to sit so we could a look at [Tommy Joseph]. That’s the way it is."

Crawford survived a brutal first half of this season and finished with a .243 batting average and a .756 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley. From June 20 through Monday's regular-season finale, he hit .280 with a .381 on-base percentage, 13 homers, 42 RBIs and a .904 OPS.

It was a no-brainer that the Phils would take a look at Crawford this month; they would have had to place him on the 40-man roster in November anyway. Still, Crawford was a little surprised to get the call on the day he helped Lehigh Valley clinch a berth in the International League playoffs. Competing in a playoff series — at any level — can benefit a player's development. The Phillies, however, decided they wanted to see Crawford now.

"I thought I was going to stick around for playoffs and then Dusty (Wathan, the Triple A manager) told me and I was speechless," Crawford said. "It has been my dream since I was a little kid to play in the big leagues and I'm just happy to be here."

Crawford's poor first half this season left some pundits questioning his prospect status. He ranked as high as No. 6 in the game on Baseball America's list entering the 2016 season. In July, the publication dropped him to 92nd.

"It kind of sparked a fire right there," Crawford said.

Crawford said he has enjoyed playing new positions and that it doesn’t matter where he plays because the big leagues are where every players wants to be.

"I’m going to do the best I can do and hopefully get a spot for next year," he said. "Until then, I’m just focused on today. I just want to focus on this game today and take it day by day. I'm happy to be here and I want to help this team."

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

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Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies will be without Mark Leiter Jr.'s versatile arm for about six weeks. An MRI performed Monday on the pitcher's sore right forearm showed a strained flexor muscle.

Leiter had a good chance to make the opening day roster as a long reliever or fifth starter. With him out, the Phillies could be in need of a swingman.

Could Ben Lively be that guy?

"I can pitch anywhere," the competitive 26-year-old right-hander said. "I don't care. Wherever they want, I'll pitch."

Lively did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club as he turned in five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a rain-shortened 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon. He allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out four. He was particularly impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Justin Smoak and retiring Russell Martin on a tapper back to the mound with runners on second and third.

"I just tried to bear down and stick to the game plan," Lively said. "There's too much technology around here now. We have all the heat maps and we talked about it before the game and I just stayed with it."

Lively made 15 starts with the big club last year and 10 of them were quality starts in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs. Lively doesn't have power stuff. He gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings last season and struck out just 5.3 per nine. Management would love to see some improvement in those areas — i.e., more of what he displayed on Tuesday.

"Lively was strong today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He came out and attacked the zone.

"One of the things that is important is that we see some swing and misses with Lives and we saw a couple of bat-missing moments today that were, to me, a big deal. He induces quick contact, which is important, but we also like to see the ability to miss bats and we saw that on a couple of occasions, (Curtis) Granderson being most notable."

Granderson struck out twice against Lively.

"We look at past tendencies from recent years," Lively said of his pregame study. "The main one we looked at today was Granderson. He has a low slugging percentage on the outer half (of the plate), so we pounded him on the outer half the whole time."

With Jerad Eickhoff headed to the disabled list and Nick Pivetta likely to join Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez in the starting rotation, Lively appears to be vying for the fifth starter's job with Zach Eflin and non-roster invite Drew Hutchison. But he and Hutchison also could be vying for a long man's job in the bullpen.

By mid-April, the Phillies will probably have an eight-man bullpen. But they could break with an extra reliever because they won't need a fifth starter until April 11.

However it shakes out, Lively did not hurt his chances of landing some role with his performance Tuesday.

Roster moves
The Phillies sent catcher Logan Moore, infielder Mitch Walding and outfielder Andrew Pullin to minor-league camp.

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

Photo: NBCSP

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has been noticeably absent from game action in minor-league camp.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, says there's nothing to be alarmed about.

"He had the flu and he's over it now," Jordan said. "He's fine now. No issues. He's 100 percent."

Jordan said Sanchez got up to 30 pitches in a bullpen session this week.

"He let it go with all his pitches," Jordan said.

Jordan added that Sanchez would pitch in a game in the next few days. He added that Sanchez would open the season on time with the Clearwater club, though his innings will be watched at the outset until he's fully stretched out.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958.