Many Phillies fans were taken by surprise during the first half of the International League season as it seemed as though their #1 prospect, J.P. Crawford, was regressing in his adjustment to AAA pitching. Having been promoted from AA Reading last year, Crawford seemed more hype than hero in his first full campaign with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Meanwhile, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis seemed to lay claim to the starting shortstop role, with stellar defense (with 6 errors in 517 chances his .988 fielding percentage is first among NL shortstops), plate discipline (his BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS this season are above his career averages), and he is on pace to play in all 162 of the team’s games in 2017.
With those two scenarios playing out, there seemed no rush to consider J.P. for a promotion to the Phillies at any point during the season. Other prospects, such as Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, and Nick Williams were moving ahead of the highly touted shortstop with promotions (and production) at the major league level.
J.P. stuck at AAA is not the scenario the Phillies had hoped for coming into 2017. But, a few things have changed in recent weeks:
- J.P. has started to hit. Really hit. While his season stats look mediocre, (.242/.349/.406), this is due almost exclusively to his very poor start. In his last 55 games (since June 20), his line has been .288/.386/.588, with 11 home runs. His prior career high in HR is 11. Sometimes talented minor leaguers figure it out. It appears J.P. has done that. June 20th also coincides with his return from the DL with a groin strain, so it is entirely possible he wasn’t healthy until he was able to have that rest.
- The Phillies current occupant at third base, Maikel Franco, has struggled and is showing signs of regression. His line this season is .224/.277/.389, all under his four year MLB averages in those categories. The minor and major leagues are chock full of players who show signs of success, only to be humbled when the league makes adjustments to you faster than you are able to make in return. Mike Schmidt recently said on a CSN Phillies broadcast that he believes Maikel has the tools to be a .300 hitter with 35 HR, but he is at that point in his career where something has to change in order for that to happen.
- Rhys Hoskins, who owned AA and AAA pitching, has raked in his first games with the Phillies. In his first 38 MLB at bats, Rhys has hit 5 HR with 9 RBI. A small sample size to be sure, but he has done this on a really long and depressing west coast road trip, and he has been playing a position (LF) he has never played before. The reason for his defensive change was made solely to get him some MLB AB’s before the season ends, and presumably to get those AB’s under his belt as he competes for the starting 1B job next season. In short, that experiment has worked.
The Aaron Altherr injury opened a spot in the Phillies lineup for another outfielder, and this was the only opportunity the Phillies needed to get Rhys to the major leagues. It appears that Maikel Franco’s play hasn’t warranted an ownership stake at 3B, and this is the opening that J.P. Crawford needs to get his licks at the major league level. While it is doubtful that Rhys Hoskins will solidify his role defensively in LF, it is more than possible that J.P. Crawford could be the Phillies third baseman of the future, especially if the Phils believe that Galvis is a longer term solution at SS. If J.P. hits in the big leagues, it can also strengthen Matt Klentak’s bargaining power if he should choose to trade Freddy or Tommy Joseph for some much-needed pitching in the off season.
What we are seeing here is what organizational depth and options looks like for a rebuilding team. What Phillies fans should be watching for the rest of this campaign is to see if these young guys develop into the Phillies of the future, and to see if the youth, energy, and competition for playing time can ruin some pennant race dreams for other teams and their fans.
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Baseball writer for SportsArePhilly.com. Coach of the Easton YellowJackets of the Lehigh Valley Cal Ripken League.
You can follow me on Twitter @jasphil