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Reds Trade Evaluation: Jonathon Crawford, SP

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A former first round pick with high potential, but is the bullpen his future?

That arm is huge.
That arm is huge.
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade of Alfredo Simon, everyone was fawning over Eugenio Suarez because he is a major league ready shortstop.  That in itself would be considered a great return for Simon, but Walt was also able to secure a pitcher with high potential.  Jonathon Crawford, or Johnny Crawfish, as his twitter handle suggests was the 20th overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 draft.  Crawford was product of the University of Florida Gators, and as well as a teammate of Anthony DeSclafani who the Reds traded for the very same day in different deals.

Jonathon went to school in Okeechobee, FL (which I still think is the best city name ever) and was drafted in the 42nd round by the Marlins but elected to go to school.  Crawford only pitched in 3.2 innings his Freshmen year, but became the Gators number one starter in his Sophomore year, posting a 3.13 ERA in 77.2 innings and throwing a no hitter during Regionals.  He didn't fare as well in his Junior year with a 3.84 ERA in 86.2 innings, but had already made himself a well known prospect by his showing his Sophomore year.

Crawford didn't really have the most spectacular numbers in college as you would expect from a first round pick.  He was definitely a leader on his team, but his walk rates were high and he didn't have the strikeout numbers you typically look for.  I always assume that you'd find a college first rounder with a 9.0 K/9, but Crawford fell short of that.

The reason why Crawford was drafted so high is because he can really sling it.  You draft based on velocity, and it also helps when you can show a plus off speed pitch.  Crawford regular sits in the 92-96 MPH range, can hit 98, and has shown he can hold those velocities late into the game.  I'd hope so because he isn't a small guy on the mound at 6'2, 205lbs.  He also throws what scouts consider a plus out pitch in a devastating slider at 82-84 MPH.  Crawford will show a fringe/average changeup, but the pitch doesn't look to be one that will fool Major League hitters.  I'm sure it is one thing he is working very hard to improve.

The biggest tools of Crawford is his ability to throw hard, his build, and a workman's attitude on the mound.  There are some that feel that he will end up in the bullpen, and he may be better suited for it.  Without the development of a third pitch it will look even more likely.  If he goes to the bullpen there are opinions that he can be a top flight closer.  John Sickels had this to say about Crawford before the draft.

"Crawford...could become a number two starter if the changeup comes around.... I look at what Crawford is, and what I see is a reliever. Don't take this as your only opinion on him, but I just don't see a starter. "

I like the fact that Crawford has that #2 ceiling, maybe more of a #3, and at worst would look really good in the bullpen in high leverage situations.  That is some high praise for a guy that some saw as an overdraft and is considered the second piece in the trade for Simon.

Now, I'll talk about the drawbacks scouts see with Crawford.  First, he has had problems with control on the mound.  Everything I have read says he has good mechanics.  He isn't much of an injury risk (knock on wood), and his frame and the way he throws the ball helps him get the most into the pitch and last long into the game.  The problem scouts see is he has a wonky delivery.  He is inconsistent with his release point and that leads to him missing his spots with his fastball and not finishing with his slider.  They are both plus pitches if he develops, but he needs to be able to control them better.

Crawford has pitched well at the professional level even if his peripherals would suggest otherwise.  He hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00.  I'm just going to stick to his 2014 numbers because he only pitched 19 innings in 2013.  In 2014, at the age of 22, Crawford threw 123 innings with a 2.85 ERA.  He gave up 6.8 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 6.2 K/9.  Obviously, the walk and strikeout numbers aren't where you want them with a 1.70 K/BB ratio.  DeSclafani averaged a 5.0 K/BB up until he hit AA.

I'm likening Crawford a bit to Michael Lorenzen, without the aggressive promotions.  I think Crawford is a lot like Lorenzen where they have plus stuff, can throw hard, and have projectable bodies that lend belief they can start.  However, they are both raw and coaches want them to work on things in the minors.  The goal isn't for them to blow people away, but to learn to pitch.  I see Crawford doing that and is doing it by generating ground balls with a 1.30 GO/AO ratio in 2014.  He is keeping hits and home runs to a minimum, while working on his stuff.  Much like Lorenzen you aren't seeing the strikeout numbers you'd expect from a guy that can hit the high 90's.  Both are given the same projections from a #2 starter to a future closer.

So, keep a close eye on Johnny Crawfish this season.  I think the updated MLB.com prospect rankings were putting him at #7 in the Reds Top 10 just behind DeSclafani.  Also, if you want to follow him on Twitter you can find him at @Johnny_Crawfish.

Here is to a great 2015 season to all the new additions to the Cincinnati Reds system, so far, and hopefully we'll be seeing you at Great American Ball Park sooner rather than later.