The Giants drafted Brandon Crawford out of the 2008 First Year Player Draft from UCLA. The talented college shortstop was projected as a first round talent but he fell to the 4th round when he struggled in his final college year. The book on Crawford was as follows: terrific defender at SS but he swings-and-misses a lot — he struck out in 25% of his at-bats in that last year in college and that’s hitting with metal. In 2009, as a college draftee, the Giants started Crawford off in San Jose. Crawford was white-hot, hitting a slash of: .371/.445/.600. and soon found himself in Connecticut. While in Connecticut, Crawford took his lumps when he hit: .258/.294/.365.
They often say that the biggest transition for a prospect is between A and AA baseball. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it often seems that way. By all accounts Crawford’s glove was still terrific — BA ranked him the best defensive infielder in the system, here — but you’ve got show at least something offensively to carve out a starting role in the majors. Stat-watchers should have expected Crawford to have a rough transition from San Jose to Connecticut. Why? Crawford’s BABIP in San Jose was a staggering .493. We know that hitters can have a larger affect on their BABIP than their pitching counterparts, but a near .500 BABIP is an outlier. Crawford was hitting for a ton of power in San Jose (ISO .229) but he was striking out in nearly 1/3rd of his at-bats (K% 30.48%). When he got to AA, he walked even less (dropping from 8% to 4%) and his BABIP dropped to a more reasonable .334.
It was a rough stretch in AA for Crawford. The Giants left him in AA to start the 2010 season and so far the early returns have been great. Some numbers:
Year Tm Lev PA BB% K% ISO BABIP 2009 2 Teams AA-A+ 542 5.54% 26.56% 0.132 .364 2009 San Jose A+ 119 8.40% 30.48% 0.229 .493 2009 Connecticut AA 423 4.73% 25.51% 0.107 .334 2010 Richmond AA 166 16.29% 24.44% 0.148 .294
Data pulled from 5.23.10
I’ve listed 4 pretty important statistics for hitters above. How much they walk (BB%), strikeout (K%), how much power they hit for (ISO), and their batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The most impressive development about Crawford’s second crack at AA baseball has been his BB% — it currently stands at 16.29%. After posting a 4.73% in AA last year, Crawford has nearly quadrupled his walk rate this year. He’s still striking out at the same rate, but strikeouts are less egregious if you can supplement them with other skills — namely getting on base via the walk and hitting for power. Overall, the Eastern League is a pretty tough place for hitters. For example, the league average hitter in the EL right now is hitting .251/.328/.378 (OPS .706). That includes slugging first basemen, outfielders, and other offense first positions. Comparatively, Crawford is hitting .252/.364/.400 (OPS .764). And that’s as a SS with above-average defense. Crawford’s ISO isn’t in the .200+ range that it was in San Jose, but at the current .148 he’s showing moderate power.
The biggest caveat is that it’s still early in the year — just 166 plate appearances to this point — but if Crawford’s change at the plate is for real, his ceiling adjusts a little from bench glove to potential starter.
If we call Crawford a .310 wOBA batter in the majors — think Orlando Caberera’s 2009 season or about any .700 OPS batter in the majors — we could value Crawford as follows:
Batting Wins Above Average (.310 wOBA, league wOBA .332): –1.28 wins
Defensive Wins Above Average: +0.5 wins
SS Positional Adjustment: +.75 wins
Replacement Level: +2.25 wins
= 2.22 wins above replacement * .8 (or 80% playing time ie: 560 PA’s) = +1.78 wins
Under our assumptions above he projects as a 1.78 win player for the Giants in 80% playing time. I’m calling him a +5 run defender at SS, which is very good when you consider he plays in the most athletic player group in baseball. Also, keep in mind that this WAR valuation is without any baserunning component. Crawford should be mobile enough to chip in a couple of runs with is legs each year.
Depending on how Crawford finishes out this year — and if his new plate approach is for real — the Giants should have a couple of decisions on their mind. Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe are both free agents after this season and Crawford is the only prospect in the minors that you could consider for the opening at SS. From the looks of it, the best available ’11 SS FA will be J.J. Hardy. The Giants might want to consider signing a SS that can play half the year at the position before turning it over to Crawford. Again, it’s still very early in the year, but Crawford’s progress is quite encouraging. He’s probably the #5 prospect in the Giants system right now.
I would break down the Top-5 as follows:
1. Buster Posey
2. Madison Bumgarner
3. Zach Wheeler
4. Thomas Neal
5. Brandon Crawford
With Brandon Belt around #6-8.
Comment Starter: What do you make of Crawford’s season so far? Is it too aggressive to pencil him into the 2011 Giants team?