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J.P. Crawford was given the moniker “shortstop of the future” when the Seattle Mariners acquired him from Philadelphia last offseason. The future appears to be here now.
Since he was called up from Triple-A Tacoma in the second week of May, the 24-year-old has consistently hit, helped stabilize a shaky infield, and hasn’t let an ankle injury that kept him out in early June slow any of that progress.
“J.P.’s in a really good spot,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I thought he was playing great before he had the setback with the ankle injury, and he came back and has not missed a beat. Very confident. ... Really happy with where J.P. is at, and (how) he continues to grow. I just like his demeanor, how he’s carrying himself on the field. It’s been really good.”
Crawford showed potential if not full production with the Phillies in limited at-bats. That intrigued the Mariners, who eventually dealt Jean Segura and others to get him. He showed growth in Seattle’s system during spring training, and consistency on offense and defense with the Rainiers.
Now he’s got an everyday opportunity to prove himself in the majors. Crawford has shown flashes of what could end up being a breakout season.
“I’m just getting a chance to play every day. That’s the main thing,” Crawford said. “I didn’t get a chance to play every day last year, and had a bunch of injuries, so that kind of took the wrong perspective in people’s eyes. Over here, fresh start, I’m getting a chance to prove what I’ve got, and I’m making the best of it.”
Crawford was originally called up to fill infield gaps created by injuries, and he’s played well enough to earn more time. Servais sees the exposure the young shortstop is getting in the Mariners’ step-back season as a bonus, as Crawford is projected to be a central piece of what the club is trying to build in the coming years.
“This season is about opportunity for young players,” Servais said. “We certainly gave up a good player to get J.P. Crawford, but with where he’s at in his development and his age, it’s huge (to play every day). Just let him go out there, let him play, and learn. That’s what it’s about.
“There’s going to be some failures, there’s going to be some rough games along the way, but I think what we’re starting to see is this is a guy that will really be a big part of our future going forward. And, the fact that he’s in the middle of the field at shortstop is huge. It’s really, really big.”
Though he has fewer plate appearances, Crawford holds Seattle’s best batting average (.300 in 100 at-bats) and ranks just behind patient slugger Daniel Vogelbach in on-base percentage (.377). Crawford is also slugging at .450 with nine doubles, two homers and 16 RBIs.
Crawford said his timing has been on at the plate, and he’s been swinging well. His uptick in offensive production came from extensive work in spring training and Triple-A to use more of the field, Servais said.
“Offensively in spring training, I didn’t see the consistency in using the whole field to hit,” Servais said. “We saw in spring training there was a lot of balls pulled. Again, coming to a new organization, sometimes you try to do a little too much.
“But, I know the focus there once he got to Triple-A, and they sat down with him is try to flatten out his swing plane a little bit, and not get so pull-orientated where he’s cutting across it, and stay through balls and use the middle of the field. Ultimately, left field, there’s hits out there too. There’s a lot of them, and he’s figured that out.”
Crawford became the fourth Seattle shortstop with at least four hits and four RBIs in Sunday’s win over the Orioles, and the only one to complete that feat in his first 100 games in the majors. The career afternoon, during which he had a home run, three singles and then a sacrifice fly in his final at-bat, was the first four-hit game by a Mariner this season.
“He can cover pitches all over the plate, all over the zone,” Servais said. “He’s got power. He’s not really filled out yet into his ‘man muscles,’ like I like to call them, but he’s going to continue to get stronger. The balls will jump out of the park, that’s not a concern with him. It’s more the quality of at-bat and using the whole field, and he continues to do that.”
Though he has committed six errors in his 233 innings, his defense has improved with better footwork and throws. Crawford has credited Mariners infield coach Perry Hill for “saving his career” with the adjustments he helped Crawford make this spring.
“He kind of just simplified everything up, and then it picked up right from there,” Crawford said. “We worked in January, and he gave me some stuff to work on, and it helped me so much.”
Crawford looks much more confident covering the middle infield, Servais said.
“I think Perry Hill has done a fantastic job with him, simplifying a few things that got in J.P.’s way,” Servais said. “Some of his errors came from his throwing. It wasn’t necessarily his hands, or his range, being able to get the balls.
“We addressed it early on. J.P. continued to work on it while he was Triple-A, and he’s carried it over here. He’s being very aggressive. He’s going after balls. He wants the ball hit to him. You can see it. Every pitch, he’s in on every pitch, expecting it to be hit to him, and he’s finishing plays off.”