CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scary.
That was the word Nick Williams used Friday morning when he was asked how good he believed the Phillies' Triple A Lehigh Valley team could be this season.
"Scary," he said. "It's going to be a talented outfield, infield, all around. There's going to be a lot of young guys, athletic guys, just guys that are full of energy."
"It's going to be a fun time," J.P. Crawford added. "I feel like we could take it all."
Williams and Crawford, two of the Phillies' top prospects, were among a handful of players who were sent off to minor-league camp on Friday. Catching prospect Jorge Alfaro was also among the group.
All three players offer hope for the future in Philadelphia. But their immediate future lies at the top rung of the minor leagues, where they hope to make the improvements needed to make the jump to the big leagues later this season.
"They want to get me ready," Crawford said. "They want me to start playing a lot more innings with a lot more at-bats so I can be ready for the season."
Crawford, 22, was the Phillies' top draft pick in 2013 and is widely considered the organization's top prospect, a smooth-fielding shortstop who hits from the left side and has strong on-base skills. Though he did not have a standout performance in big-league camp -- he hit just .207 with a .281 on-base percentage -- he was pleased with the experience he gained.
And he's confident.
"I feel like I can compete with all of these guys," he said. "I can't wait for the season to get going."
Crawford has made a steady climb in the Phillies' system, recording an impressive .372 on-base percentage on the way up. He jumped to Triple A late last May and experienced some growing pains, hitting just .244 in 87 games. The struggles should not be alarming, though. Not only did Crawford jump a level in competition, he played the whole season at age 21 and was one of the youngest players in the International League.
The 2017 season will offer a better test of Crawford's readiness and he is prepared for it. He added some muscle to his rangy, 6-2 frame over the winter.
"I feel stronger on the field," he said.
Crawford is widely considered the Phillies' shortstop of the future. For now, that position is manned by Freddy Galvis, who does not intend on giving it up easily. With Galvis, Crawford and second basemen Cesar Hernandez, Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, the Phils have built some solid middle-infield depth. How will it all shake out? Time will tell. Galvis could end up at second if Crawford is ready next season. That could allow the Phils to cash in on Hernandez' value in a trade. These matters will play out over time. For now, the Phillies simply need Crawford to continue to improve.
Ditto for Williams and Alfaro, both 23.
Both came to the Phillies in the July 2015 trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas.
Alfaro, whose biggest tools are his power bat and power arm, could be the Phillies' catcher of the future, but he has plenty to polish up on, both offensively and defensively.
Williams has mesmerizing athleticism in the outfield and power in his bat. The Phillies had hoped he'd play himself to the big leagues last season, but he struggled mightily in the second half at Lehigh Valley and did not earn a September promotion. Plate discipline is an issue for Williams -- he walked just twice in his final 66 games last season, registering a .236 on-base percentage over that span.
Improving his plate discipline and selectivity is No. 1 on Williams' to-do list this season. He worked on that with hitting coach Matt Stairs during his time in big-league camp and drew five walks in exhibition play while hitting .286 (8 for 28) with a double, a homer, five RBIs and a wall-climbing home-run-robbery catch in the outfield.
"This spring made me feel like I can play here," Williams said. "Whenever that time is, I have no idea. But going through this spring made me truly believe I can play here."
In addition to Williams, Crawford and Alfaro, the Lehigh Valley team will feature prospects at first base (Rhys Hoskins), second base (Valentin) and in the outfield (Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens). The starting rotation will also be deep in prospects with Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.
The Phillies need some of these players to be impact big-leaguers if the team's rebuild is going lead to contention.
Crawford pays attention to the big picture and believes the Phillies are getting close.
"Oh, yeah, definitely," he said. "All of our guys that are there, I've grown up playing with them at Triple A. We're all here. I feel like we're all just one step away to finally go for it, go for it all and get a World Series. It's going to start here, in Double A and Triple A. It'll pay off then."
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scary.