Getting anybody with youth and upside in exchange for Alfredo Simon—everyone’s favorite regression candidate—was going to be pleasant enough, but Walt Jocketty did a mighty fine job acquiring an infielder who could push shortstop-incumbent Zack Cozart and a projectable starting pitcher back from Detroit. Nick Carrington examined the former, Eugenio Suarez, last week. This piece is a scouting report on the latter, his name being Jonathon “Mind the O” Crawford.

Young and projectable is exactly what Crawford is as a 23 year-old righty with 142 innings pitched professionally over the course of 31 starts. Following high school—where his fastball was sitting in the high 80s on his best days—Crawford developed into a power pitcher. Pitching in the 2012 NCAA Regionals for Florida, he was occasionally dialing it up to 97 MPH and touched 99 at least once during a no-hitter facing Bethune-Cookman. After a season plus in single-A ball, Crawford’s fastball sits in a range of 90-93 MPH. His primary complement was and still is his slider which he usually delivers in the range of 81-83 MPH.

However, like many young and raw power pitchers Crawford lacks a third pitch and good command to make him a potential top-of-the-rotation talent. He has a very raw changeup which may not have enough velocity separation to be effective on days when his fastball is skewing low in the MPHs. But if he can make his change more deceptive or put a little movement on it to complement his slider, then Crawford will start to look more like a viable major league starter.

Mechanically, there are a couple of things not to be thrilled about. His delivery is pretty tightly-wound and relatively compact with him whipping the ball in at a high three-quarters arm angle, giving the fastball some nice tailing action away from lefties and his slider more sinking action than x-axis movement.

There’s a little hitch in his delivery though; the timing mechanism that causes him to raise and lower his hands before delivery involves a lot of movement, which means there’s more for there to go wrong in his pitching motion. When the glove goes a bit too high or low on either part of that motion, Crawford’s left shoulder opens up and pulls him off the mound toward first, which is why the phrase “battling his delivery” comes up a lot with Crawford. Keeping that shoulder closed seems to keep him more balanced on his follow-through and allows him to stay on top of the ball better.

Besides diminishing his command, Crawford’s delivery makes him much more comfortable in the windup than the stretch, making holding runners more difficult for him and the catcher. Giving up walks will hurt him doubly if he can’t be quicker to the plate from the stretch.

2014 was Crawford stayed in A ball and had his first full year of starting. His stats were encouraging; after a tough first start against Dayton (four singles, three walks, a home run, and a wild pitch in 2.1 innings), he tossed nine straight strong starts of five innings or more, only giving up two earned runs once. Crawford got hit pretty hard in June and early July and then settled between his spring and summer performance for the rest of the season. In a microcosm of the ups and downs of his 2014, Crawford finished with the second-best performance of his season (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6K) followed by his second-worst (3.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K).

Crawford’s peripherals should be looked at in two halves due to the effect a full season seemed to have on his consistency and command. His strikeout rate was 6.22 on the year; 6.89 in his first 12 starts and 5.66 in the last 12. His walk rate tells a clearer story of conditioning-induced loss of command: 3.10 BB/9 in the first half, 4.35 in the second. However, he started to induce weak contact a little bit more often in the second half, with a WHIP (1.24) just .11 points higher than his first half number of 1.13.

His second start of the year against Dayton was Crawford at his best. He attacked the Dragons hitters, not giving up a fly ball in play until the last out of the fifth. In 4.2 innings before that, he allowed only two groundball hits and a walk while inducing five groundball outs, seven strikeouts, and a pickoff. He lost some command in the sixth and seventh innings, leaving the ball up more often. His final stat line was seven scoreless innings, with three hits and a walk given up while striking out nine.

Like with every pitcher at his development level, Jonathon Crawford’s first season at AA will clarify his true talent and potential much more than his brief professional career thus far. The Tigers certainly saw him as a starter and the Reds likely do as well. This will be a season to improve his conditioning, command, and changeup. Even if it all comes together quickly this year, Crawford shouldn’t be expected in Cincinnati until 2016 at the earliest as he is not yet on the 40-man roster, and it’s more likely he’ll have to wait his turn after Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen get their auditions. The highest potential for him seems to be as a #3 starter and this coming season will do a lot to reveal just how realistic that hope is.

16 Responses

  1. Doug Gray

    A few corrections: Crawford didn’t sit 92-96 this year. He was 90-93. And he didn’t pitch in High-A, he pitched in Low-A. I personally saw him pitch this season at 90-93. I talked with two sources who saw him pitch several times and had him in the same range. Baseball Prospectus also noted he was 90-93 this year (subscription needed to read this link: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=25190).

    • Kevin Michell

      Thanks, Doug. Just checked my source for velo and it was Baseball America but in reference to his pre-draft FB speed. What do you use for Minor League velo averages?

      Why no one got me BP subscription for Christmas, I’ll never know.

      • Doug Gray

        I use my own readings or those from trusted sources. Baseball America is hit and miss (their velo readings on Nick Travieso from 2014 were brutally low and I honestly can’t figure out where they came from – I saw him pitch at least one time every month of the season and his low velocity was typically higher than their reported top range of where he sat). Baseball Prospectus can be the same way. When it comes to non-Reds guys, where I don’t watch them/get reports on them often and can’t reach out to someone in the organization, I tend to go with BA or BP if I don’t know a source that has seen them.

      • Kevin Michell

        Right on. I’ll have to start utilizing Twitter to get some of that verified info to append with BP and BA reports. I also plan on nursing my New Year’s hangover with all that data you’ve got over at RML…

  2. reaganspad

    I agree LW, dang he had a good change up

  3. Nick Carrington

    Good work, Kevin. Exciting prospect to get for someone like Simon. Not a great strikeout rate though, which is somewhat concerning.

    • Kevin Michell

      Thanks, Nick. That K rate is a bit low- he had a few starts early on in 2014 where he struck out 6+, but then he was routinely only getting 1-3 a game from May through July. But with the sinking action on his slider he could be effective even when he’s not missing bats as long as he’s inducing mostly ground balls.

  4. Thegaffer

    Everything I have seen on Crawford makes me think he will never be a decent starter in MLB. I think his draft position was a reach (most sources say this) so it inflates his prospect status. He is no spring chicken to be entering high A for the first time next year. The fact that he was traded for Simon to me shows his real value. All that said I still love the trade!

    Doug, I assume you prefer Travieso and even Romano at the same level based on your prospect rankings to Crawford? I know your philosophy on trying for starters first but it seems like he needs time to increase his innings. And if you need to change Crawfords delivery anyway why not make him a reliever?

    • Doug Gray

      Absolutely have Travieso and Romano ahead of Crawford. Nothing he does is better than what those guys do and they do several things better than he does.

      I think Crawford winds up in the bullpen, but I think he’s going to get 2 more years to work as a starter before that time comes. If he can develop the control and the change up, he’s got enough to work with that he can be a starter and guys that can start are valuable.

      • Thegaffer

        So, basically trade bait. One of these days we should consider cashing one of these in for some MLB help!

  5. redmountain

    A guy in Low A ball has lots of time to refine his mechanics and develop other pitches, this is another example of Jocketty “doing nothing”. Also, since many pitchers start out as starters does not mean they will stay starters. There is no question that Jocketty has stockpiled lots of arms. Now lets get some hitters. For a 1st round draft pick, how about the kid from Vandy who plays 2nd and SS? The Reds may be drafting too low to get him, but maybe not.

  6. redmountain

    I was referring to Dansby Swanson

    • Kevin Michell

      I’m pretty unaware when it comes to college baseball, so I don’t know a whole lot about the draft class yet (got some reading to do) and even less about Swanson. From a cursory glance over the internet, it looks like the stock on him is pretty high, I think you’re probably right to say they’re drafting too low to get him.

      I wonder if Ian Happ from UC will fall right into their laps. Seems that way from some of the mock drafts.

  7. Redsman

    Appreciate the comments about his delivery, he certainly is not a prototypical ‘drop and drive’ guy. Just like many other young guys who rely too much on their strong arms and develop injuries…or like a couple of you posted, he doesn’t use his hips or legs much. On another thread it was pointed out that Keith Law ultimately projected him as a closer. Either way, he is probably a ways off and not any better than other guys we already have. Agree wholeheartedly with Red mountain’s comment about getting us some more hitters. Apparently our organization has yet to understand the not so subtle shift in baseball which puts a premium on hitters in general and especially on power bats. Perhaps by the time the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way our brain trust will catch on…or maybe we will have another brain trust by then.