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 likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.