When the Seattle Mariners acquired J.P. Crawford last offseason, it seemed inevitable he’d become the team’s everyday shortstop. Almost a year later, Crawford has yet to cement his status as the Mariners’ shortstop of the future.
Crawford’s first campaign as a Mariner was a Jekyll and Hyde affair. At the All-Star break, he was slashing .277/.347/.466 with 12 doubles in 39 games. But his bat cooled considerably since – just .194/.291/.306 in 51 contests. Compounding matters, a late-season hamstring injury idling the California native for two weeks.
Despite his second-half swoon, Crawford remains the favorite to be in next season’s Opening Day lineup. But is he Seattle’s shortstop of the future?
Realistically, it’s too early to determine whether Crawford is the answer at shortstop. The 24-year-old made his MLB debut two years ago, but has yet to play 100 games in a season. In fact, last night’s confrontation with Oakland was number-162 of his career.
Since the back of Crawford’s baseball card is a work in progress, let’s have fun with what little we know. How about comparing his performance through 162 games to notable shortstops at the same point in their respective careers?
Will we learn anything factual from this exercise? Not really, but we may gain some perspective from learning where current and former shortstops stood at 162 games. Besides, comps are fun. Right?
First, a quick look at Crawford’s MLB career to date and how he arrived in the Emerald City.
Philadelphia made Crawford the sixteenth overall selection of the 2013 amateur draft. By his debut with the team in September 2017, MLB Prospect Watch tabbed him baseball’s second best prospect. Unfortunately, offensive and defensive struggles followed during several big-league auditions.
Unwilling to wait for Crawford to blossom, the win-now Phillies dealt him to the Mariners last offseason for established veteran shortstop Jean Segura. Seattle’s sense of urgency was far lower than in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Mariners were entering year-one of what the organization hopes to be a fast-track rebuild and thereby comfortable with giving Crawford time to develop with Class-AAA Tacoma. By May though, management deemed the 24-year-old ready and he quickly displaced veteran Tim Beckham at shortstop.
Here are Crawford’s Philadelphia and Seattle stats and career totals, plus league-averages.
Philly v Seattle
Okay, on to our shortstop comps – all are familiar names.
For our first set of comps, I used the splits tool found on each player’s FanGraphs page. This facilitated capturing an array of standard and advanced stats from a specific period. In this case, a player’s first 162 games.
We’ll only cover a few stats to get a feel for how each player was performing at game-162. They’re separated into two groups for ease of comparison with the cutoff being a .318 wOBA – the five-year league-average.
Fast Startin’ Shortstops
Francisco Lindor is one of baseball’s most popular players and one of its best. In five big-league seasons, Lindor is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger winner, and a Gold Glover.
Two Texas rivals of Seattle made the cut – Houston’s Carlos Correa and Elvis Andrus of the Rangers. Correa was the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year and a former All-Star. He’s been to the IL twice this season, but back with the team now and still just 24-year-old.
Only Michael Young has played more games in a Rangers uniform than Andrus. The Venezuelan holds the franchise record for stolen bases and is second to Young on the triples list.
During the dynamic debut of rookie Kyle Lewis, many Mariners fans learned Trevor Story is the only player with dingers in his first four MLB games. The All-Star and Silver Slugger winner is now a foundational piece on the Rockies.
Although he didn’t reach the 162-game mark until 2017, Trea Turner impressed enough to be runner-up in 2016 NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Paul DeJong finished second in 2017 NL Rookie of the Year voting, although a sophomore slump followed. DeJong did rebound with his first All-Star selection in July.
Crawford sits at the bottom of a list populated by some of the best shortstops in baseball. Let’s see where he places within our second grouping, which includes recognizable, talented players.
Late Bloomin’ Performers
Marcus Semien and Jorge Polanco are prime examples of late bloomers – both are enjoying breakout seasons after debuting five-plus years ago. Semien leads full-time shortstops in the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR); Polanco was a first-time All-Star this year.
It’s been a tough, injury-marred 2019 for Didi Gregorious. Despite the setbacks, the Yankee has managed to average 22 home runs since 2016. After two inconsistent seasons, New York’s other shortstop – Amed Rosario – is enjoying a breakout campaign.
Earlier this season, Tim Anderson of the White Sox received heat from opponents and fans for enthusiastic his bat flips. Now, he’s having the last laugh. Anderson is about to capture his first batting title.
Versatile Javier Báez became the Cubs regular shortstop this season, but I included him anyway because he’s so fun to watch. During his first five campaigns, Báez played both second and third base earning a World Series ring and 2018 NL MVP runner-up along the way.
In Boston, Xander Bogaerts also started slowly. Yet, the Aruban is top-three among MLB shortstops in OBP, SLG, wOBA, and wRC+ this season.
Andrelton Simmons of the Angels was once considered a defense-only player. The eight-year veteran is still a great glove, but he’s morphed into a legitimate offensive threat too. Injuries slowed Simmons this year, although he did average 32 doubles and a .285/.334/.419 triple slash in 2017-18.
At 32-years-old, Brandon Crawford is the “old man” of our group. The UCLA product is a previous Silver Slugger and All-Star and a three-time Gold Glover. Plus, he won two World Series with the Giants.
Perhaps learning J. P. Crawford’s production to date is similar to the players listed on the preceding table will encourage Mariners fans to be patient with their young shortstop.
Okay, now that we’ve seen Crawford stands among his contemporaries, let’s contrast him to former Mariners shortstops. This won’t prove anything, but it’s September in a lost season. So why not?
The split tool function at FanGraphs only proves helpful with players from this century, so wOBA isn’t readily available. Instead, we’ll use OPS determined with a spreadsheet and player game logs found at Baseball Reference.
As you’re about to see, there’s only one star on our list. Still, let’s dig in anyway and momentarily reminisce.
A-Rod & Everyone Else
Obviously, Álex Rodríguez is the cream of the crop among Seattle shortstops. He may not reach Cooperstown due to PED use, but he was a special talent nonetheless. Like him or not, A-Rod was one of the best Mariners ever.
The remaining players built pedestrian offensive résumés as Mariners. Still, one player did morph into an All-Star – and a potential MVP candidate – after leaving Seattle. Let’s compare Crawford to this individual and the team’s other shortstops since GM Jerry Dipoto arrived four years ago.
Not including Beckham, there have been three regular shortstops during Dipoto’s tenure – Crawford, Segura, and Ketel Marte. Let’s do a more detailed comp of the trio. Just for fun, I threw in Brad Miller – the shortstop included in Dipoto’s first major trade as GM.
Miller was Seattle’s Opening Day shortstop in 2014-15, although his inconsistent bat and defensive lapses frustrated fans. Still, the former Clemson Tiger managed to slash a respectable .258/329/.402 with 22 doubles, 13 stolen bases, and 11 home runs during his final year in the Emerald City.
The only fast starter was Segura as a Milwaukee Brewer. Seattle acquired him from Arizona by including Marte in the deal, who was 23-years-old at the time and considered the team’s shortstop of the future.
As a D-Back, Marte evolved into a dynamic offensive weapon and versatile defender capable of playing the infield and outfield. This season, the switch-hitter has 30-plus home runs – more than his previous career total (22). Although his season ended prematurely with an injury, he will receive MVP consideration.
With Segura, the Mariners seemingly found their next great shortstop. He had just led the NL in hits and was entering his prime. Furthermore, Seattle signed him to a five-year/$70 million extension in 2017.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
When the Mariners entered rebuild-mode, veterans like Segura became prime trade chips in Dipoto’s quest to build a sustainable contender. Once again, Seattle traded its shortstop of the future to acquire the next shortstop of the future – Crawford.
Okay, one last comp – cousins J.P. and Carl Crawford. Contrasting the Mariners’ shortstop to a retired outfielder won’t prove anything. But it’s offbeat and fun.
Cousin v Cousin
Carl debuted with the then-Devil Rays in 2002 and was a four-time All-Star and MVP of the 2009 mid-summer classic. The Houston native also won a Silver Slugger and earned a Gold Glove in 2010 – his final year as a Ray.
Although injuries plagued Crawford during the final six years of his career with Boston and the Dodgers, he still managed to produce an impressive .290/.330/.435 slash with 480 stolen bases and 41.5 fWAR during 15 seasons.
Will J.P. earn bragging rights at the Crawford family reunion? He has an early lead in several categories, but his Texas cousin’s career took off after his first 162 big-league contests.
Time will tell.
Despite Crawford’s uneven beginning, the Mariners appear comfortable with him serving as their everyday shortstop in 2020. This makes sense.
Our comps demonstrate players develop at different rates. Studs like A-Rod, Lindor, Story, and Correa are exceptions – not the norm. Perhaps Crawford never flourishes with Seattle, but it’s reasonable to believe he could ultimately thrive like the slow-starting All-Stars we profiled.
There’s another reason to stick with Crawford – available resources.
According to Prospect Insider’s most recent prospect rankings, the Mariners don’t have near-term shortstop help on the farm. The highest ranked name is Noelvi Marte (9th) – he turns 18 next month. The only other top-40 shortstop is 19-year-old Juan Querecuto (26th).
Yes, September call-up Donnie Walton is a fun and dynamic player, but more likely to begin next season in Tacoma than Seattle. Although one should never underestimate determined players like Walton, Crawford appears to have a seemingly insurmountable edge over the current competition.
Whether Crawford is the Mariners’ shortstop of the future will be determined at a later date. For now, practicing patience with him – and all the young Mariners we’ll be seeing in 2020-21 – is a reasonable approach for Dipoto’s rebuilding club.
After all, not everyone can make a dramatic entrance like Kyle Lewis just did.
My Oh My…