Sometimes the player a team wants most ends up being the one the scouts didn’t go to see.
At least that’s the way it worked out with the Phillies and their first-round pick, J.P. Crawford (No. 16 overall selection), in the 2013 MLB draft on Thursday.
The Phillies first got turned on to the lean and lanky shortstop from Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Calif., a suburb located between Los Angeles and Anaheim, when they went to see a pitcher, Shane Watson.
The Phillies took Watson, a right-handed pitcher now at Single A Lakewood, with their first-round pick last year. But in scouting and signing Watson, the Phillies learned all about Crawford.
Call it a two-for-one.
“I thought he was one of the best players we saw last year when we saw Shane Watson play,” said Marti Wolever, the Phillies’ assistant general manager. “He was outstanding then and it was a matter of how things fell in front of us and things worked out well.
“He’s a little bit of an advanced defensive player at shortstop. Offensively, he’s a little ahead of the game, too. It’s probably going to be three or four years until he’s knocking at the door here in Philadelphia.”
Crawford and Watson have been friends since they were toddlers. During MLB Network’s telecast of the draft, Crawford said that he and Watson were on the same T-ball team as five-year olds. Perhaps if it works out right, Crawford and Watson can be teammates from age five through grade school, high school, the minors and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies have had a lot of success in drafting kids out of Lakewood High. In 2007, the Phillies took catcher Travis d’Arnaud in the first round from Lakewood High. Lakewood is also the alma mater of Red Sox slugger Mike Carp and 11 other players from the school have logged time in the majors.
Currently, there are six players from Lakewood playing pro ball in big league organizations.
So maybe the Phillies expected to find another gem at Lakewood when the scouts went to watch Watson?
“It’s not something we target. I could care less what high school he’s from,” Wolever said. “It’s just a great program and they have had great players over the years. We find ourselves at their park watching players every year and I don’t anticipate that stopping.”
Crawford not only comes from a storied high school baseball program, but also comes from a strong athletic family. His cousin is Dodgers’ outfielder and 2009 All-Star Game MVP, Carl Crawford. His father, Larry, played professional football in the Canadian Football League with the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts from 1981 to 1989. When his career was over, Larry Crawford was the B.C. Lions’ all-time leader in interceptions and kickoff return yards.
But baseball is J.P. Crawford’s game and shortstop is the position Wolever sees the kid playing in the big leagues. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Crawford has a plus arm and is a slick fielder in the middle of the diamond. His fielding is Crawford’s best attribute, though Wolever projects a lot of potential on the base paths and at the plate as a left-handed hitter.
“Physically he has to fill out a little bit and grow into his body a little more,” Wolever said. “Down the road we see him as a guy who can hit .280 or .290 in the middle of the infield with a chance to steal some bases. He has a tremendous instinct for the game, which for a young guy allows him to do some things that others can’t do at this point in time. We think he could project to 10 or 15 home runs depending on how strong he gets."
Next for Crawford come the contract negotiations. Though he has a scholarship to play for USC, one of the most storied college baseball programs in the country, Wolever is hopeful that Crawford will be playing minor league ball for the Phillies this summer.
“All indications are that he’s ready to start his professional career, but that’s a difficult decision to make,” Wolever said. “Southern Cal is a great option for him to have, but as far as development goes, I think what we have to offer is a leg up on what he might entertain by going to school.”
The Phillies have the 53rd overall pick in the second round and the 89th and 96th picks in the third round.
Phils take switch-hitting catcher in second round
In the second round, with the 53rd overall pick, the Phillies took switch-hitting catcher Andrew Knapp from the University of California. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Knapp projects to be a player that hits for average and power, but reports from scouts indicate that he has some development to go behind the plate.