Phillies draft SS J.P. Crawford 16th overall

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Phillies draft SS J.P. Crawford 16th overall

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.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.

Phillies avoid arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, exchange figures with Cesar Hernandez

Phillies avoid arbitration with Jeanmar Gomez, exchange figures with Cesar Hernandez

Updated: 7:50 p.m.

The Phillies and relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez on Friday avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $4.2 million, according to a major league source.

Friday was the deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures. The Phils avoided arbitration with shortstop Freddy Galvis on Thursday with a one-year, $4.35 million agreement.

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is the team's lone remaining arbitration-eligible player. 

Hernandez and the team exchanged salary proposals on Friday. Hernandez is seeking $2.8 million. The team offered $2 million. The two sides can continue to negotiate and if a settlement is not reached, an arbitration panel will decide on Hernandez's 2017 salary by picking the player's asking price or the team's offer. Agreements are typically stuck at or near the midpoint before a hearing is even needed. Hearings are held during the first two weeks of February, if needed.

Hernandez made $525,000 in 2016. He hit .294 with a .371 on-base percentage and led the majors with 11 triples.

Cody Asche and Darin Ruf were also set to enter arbitration years but Asche was non-tendered and Ruf was traded to the Dodgers.

This is Gomez's final arbitration year; he's set for free agency after the season. It's a nice raise for a reliever who made $1.4 million in 2016.

Gomez surprisingly emerged as the Phillies' closer early in the season. He was the one man in early April who seized the late-inning opportunity and he carried the closer's job into the final weeks of September.

Gomez saved 37 games in 43 opportunities after registering just one in his career prior to 2016. He had a 2.97 ERA with 34 saves on Sept. 1 but had a rocky final month, allowing 17 earned runs in eight innings. It raised his season ERA to 4.85.

The Phillies added some relief depth this offseason in Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek. They also have Hector Neris, who had a 2.58 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 80 innings last season, consistently showing a disappearing splitter. 

So it's no given Gomez keeps the closer's job in 2017. In fact, it would seem unlikely given his shaky September and the type of stuff Neris and Benoit possess.

CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury contributed to this story.