Getting anybody with youth and upside in exchange for Alfredo SimonÃ¢â‚¬â€everyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favorite regression candidateÃ¢â‚¬â€was going to be pleasant enough, but Walt Jocketty did a mighty fine jobÃ‚Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mind the OÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 schoolÃ¢â‚¬â€where his fastball was sitting in the high 80s on his best daysÃ¢â‚¬â€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, CrawfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, CrawfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s left shoulder opens up and pulls him off the mound toward first, which is why the phrase Ã¢â‚¬Å“battling his deliveryÃ¢â‚¬Â 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, CrawfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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).
CrawfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 CrawfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be expected in Cincinnati until 2016 at the earliest as he is not yet on the 40-man roster, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more likely heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.