CLEARWATER, Fla.: J.P. Crawford shuffled into the Phillies clubhouse Thursday morning, stashed a pair of bats in his locker, changed his shoes, grabbed his glove and hustled outside. His instructor was waiting.
The team’s top prospect had arrived at the ballpark an hour earlier; he was one of the first position players there. Crawford stretched, lifted weights, and took batting practice. Now, the player the team hopes will blossom into a great shortstop, headed to a side field to practice his defense under the tutelage of Larry Bowa, the first great shortstop in team history.
Bowa, the team’s bench coach, slapped balls to Crawford’s left and right. Crawford hustled to field each one. Bowa peppered him with grounders and advice. The session lasted roughly 30 minutes, ending with the two meeting for a brief chat behind second base.
“He’s a big-time player,” Bowa said. “There’s not a play he doesn’t make. Good arm. Good work ethic. Good hands.”
Crawford has the tools to be an elite defender. He’s fast and athletic with a strong arm. But last season in double-A Reading, he would sometimes turn a routine play into a mishap. Crawford plays the game with such energy that sometimes it hinders his defense.
Bowa instructs Crawford during their morning sessions to slow down. Bowa – an intense player himself – said the game will naturally slow for Crawford as he progresses. The shortstop’s defense is constantly improving, Bowa said.
“Sometimes I just try to speed things up instead of slowing it down,” Crawford said. “Trying to be too quick sometimes, and that leads to simple mistakes. I want to make sure I make the routine plays. The more reps you take, the more comfortable and consistent you get. That’s what we’re doing out there. A lot of reps.”
Crawford had a .761 OPS last season with 33 extra-base hits and 49 walks in 86 games with double-A Reading. He turned 21 in January, and the Phillies are in no rush to push him to the majors. Crawford will spend a few weeks in major-league spring training, play in some Grapefruit League games, and then head to minor-league camp. He will likely start the season in double A but could move to triple A by the summer.
“He’s moving up the ladder real quick,” Bowa said. “I like the way the Phillies are doing it. They’re not rushing him. They’re making him earn his stripes at each level. Barring any injuries, this kid is going to be a real good player.”
When Bowa was hired in 2001 to manage the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins was a rookie. The old shortstop took to his pupil, just as he is doing this spring with Crawford. Bowa managed Rollins for four seasons, helping to mold the primitive years of Rollins’ career.
And if there’s one thing Rollins and Crawford have in common it is their bravado. Crawford carries himself with confidence, just like Rollins did. He plays the game with flair.
“This kid has some swagger, and it’s not in a bad way,” Bowa said. “He knows he can play. His backhand is something that he’s worked on. Jimmy didn’t have a real good backhand, but he came down here and developed one of the best backhands in baseball. This kid is all ears right now. He wants to learn.”
Crawford returned to the clubhouse after working with Bowa and changed into his uniform. It was only 8:40 a.m. He had taken hitting and fielding practice before the official start of the team’s workout. The prospect started his early routine when he entered professional baseball in 2013. It’s the only way he knows. Crawford said he wants to make sure he’s ready to go.
“And it’s paid off,” Crawford said, heading back to the field for another day of work.