MLB's No. 1 prospect? The case for Crawford

Todd Zolecki says Phillies phenom's premium position, intangibles augment tools

MLB's No. 1 prospect? The case for Crawford

PHILADELPHIA -- The future will be everywhere this spring in Clearwater, Fla.

The Phillies will have many of their best prospects in camp, including top prospect J.P. Crawford. ranked the 21-year-old shortstop among the top 10 prospects in baseball last season. Crawford will be in the top 10 this year, too.

But can an argument be made that Crawford should be No. 1?

Sure, why not? There are several reasons Crawford could be the best prospect in baseball:

1. He plays a premium position
Talent evaluators love to say it is important to build a strong team up the middle. It worked for the Phillies from 2007-11, when they won five consecutive National League East championships, two NL pennants and one World Series. The Phils had Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley at shortstop and second base, respectively, with Carlos Ruiz behind the plate and Shane Victorino in center field.

Crawford is considered an above-average defender, so defensively he could be a fixture in the Phillies' infield for years.

2. He can hit
Consider for a second that just seven of the 19 qualified shortstops posted a .700 OPS or higher last season. Just three had a .750 OPS or higher. If Crawford hits like everybody thinks he will hit, he should immediately become one of the better shortstops in baseball. He has hit a combined .290 with a .790 OPS in three Minor League seasons, already showing a knack for recognizing balls and strikes. Crawford has walked 160 times and struck out 163 times in his Minor League career.

Many think Crawford has the offensive talent to hit .290 to .300 in the Majors. They think his power will improve, too.

If those things happen, Crawford can live up to the hype as Rollins' long term replacement.

Top 10 Prospects by Position
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3. He can run
Crawford won't win any stolen-base titles, but he can be a threat on the bases. He has the potential to steal 15-20 bases a season, giving him another weapon in his arsenal. But Crawford has room to grow there. He has stolen only 50 of 74 bases (67.6 percent) in his career. That number should be near 80 percent.

4. Intangibles
The Phillies like Crawford's intangibles. They found him to be a leader last season with Double-A Reading, which is encouraging. But will Crawford continue those ways in the big leagues? Time will tell.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.