San Francisco Giants: Brandon Crawford's Role in 2011
With one swing of the bat, Brandon Crawford went from being a random call-up from Single-A to the savior that gave the Giants their only win in a week.
Crawford turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-4 victory in a game against Milwaukee last Friday. His hit was particularly important for a Giants team that has struggled mightily with runners in scoring position in recent games.
Crawford's grand slam secured him a place in Giants history: he became just the third Giant to have his first career hit be a grand slam and just the second to hit one in his first ever game. The other one? Bobby Bonds.
But questions still linger: Who is Brandon Crawford, and what is his role on the Giants? The answers lie ahead.
Fourth-Round Draft Pick
After his sophomore year at UCLA, Crawford was widely considered to be possibly one of the top middle infielders in the next year's draft class.
A poor showing at the summer Cape Cod League hurt his draft stock, but the worst damage was done to his confidence.
Crawford's play suffered in 2008, his final year as a Bruin, both at the plate and in the field, where, according to MiLB.com, Crawford seemed "to have lost a step and [wasn't] getting to as many balls as he once did."
The same source said that biggest concern with Crawford was whether he could handle the ups and downs of a full 162-game baseball season if his play was so closely tied to a wavering confidence.
The Giants eventually took Crawford in the fourth round, unable to pass on the tools they saw so late in the draft.
In 2011, Crawford was listed by Baseball America as the sixth best prospect in the Giants system, one spot behind fellow shortstop Ehire Adrianza.
When drafted, scouts considered Brandon Crawford a solid defender with lots of upside at the plate.
He has lived up to the hype: Crawford had not committed an error for the High-A San Jose Giants prior to his promotion and has kept the slate clean at the big league level.
His quick reflexes to stop a Prince Fielder ground ball from reaching the outfield saved a run on Saturday—the run eventually scored on a Jonathan Lucroy squeeze play three batters later.
Crawford's ability to defend the six-hole makes him incredibly valuable on a team that lacks a standout defensive shortstop. Between Miguel Tejada, Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burriss, the three other Giants who can play short, only Tejada calls shortstop his natural position, and we have all seen how he's lost a step or two (or three or four).
Fontenot and Burriss are natural second baseman and could become liabilities defensively as long-term solutions at short.
At the plate, Crawford is very undisciplined. Over the course of his minor league career, he has struck out about once per game.
His 2.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio is certainly a number that the Giants would like to see go down.
Strikeouts were a major problem for him during his 2009 season. He began the year in San Jose, but after posting a .371/.445/.600 line through 105 at-bats, he was promoted to Double-A Connecticut (now Richmond). In 392 Double-A at-bats, Crawford struck out an even 100 times to just 20 walks.
Crawford finished out 2009 in Double-A and played virtually all of 2010 there too. Over the two seasons he posted a .250/.313/.369 line.
In 2010, even though he batted 17 points lower, Crawford lowered his strikeout rate, with only 77 whiffs to 39 walks. Unfortunately, his extra-base hits disappeared, indicating Crawford was utilizing a more cautious approach at the plate.
The Giants demoted him back down to High-A San Jose, so that he could right his swing and his confidence. Once back in the hitter-friendly PCL, he began to rake, hitting .322/.412/.593 before his call-up.
Like Mike Fontenot, Crawford is a right-handed infielder who bats lefty.
At UCLA Crawford was very much a pull hitter, with a strong ability to drive the ball. He had raw power but mainly to the right side of the field.
From his few at-bats in the majors, it is evident that Crawford still maintains a similar style. As seen in his grand slam, Crawford looks to turn on balls, using his fluid swing to drive them to right field.
Crawford's struggles in Richmond were most likely tied to his inability to consistently go the other way on pitches on the outer half of the plate.
As a result, pitchers could find holes in his slight-uppercut swing toward the outside corner, where it is much more difficult to pull the ball.
Unless Crawford has completely redone his approach to outside pitches in the two months he played in San Jose this, he is going to have a problem in the majors. Big league pitchers can pound the outside corner with movement away, which will surely be tough for Crawford to hang with.
He won't be Jose Reyes, but Crawford can at least steal a base.
In his time in Double-A, Crawford was 15-for-23 on steal attempts, a decent 65 percent. He barely ran in High-A, going four-for-six.
A 65 percent stolen-base success rate tells that even if he's not a burner, he's at least got some wheels. He can be counted on to score on most tag plays and maybe pull of the occasional swipe or stretch a double into a triple.
In all likelihood, Crawford is the first player sent down once either Pablo Sandoval or Mike Fontenot returns from the DL.
Other call-ups Brandon Belt and Chris Stewart are very unlikely to be demoted. Stewart is the second catcher and will certainly remain on the roster. Belt is desperately needed for his offense and will remain unless the team opts to demote him in favor of speedster Darren Ford when he returns from injury.
In the meantime, Crawford will be given starts at shortstop.
San Francisco will expect solid defense and an occasional base hit from Crawford. Anything on top of that is a bonus.
That said, if he can make a couple more statements like the one last Friday against Shaun Marcum, he could make Brian Sabean and the front office reconsider demoting him back to San Jose (although it's not certain the team would demote him all the way back to High-A if he is sent down).
Miguel Tejada has been doing anything but hitting these days, with an OPS awfully close to slipping under .500. If his production doesn't improve, he might find himself out the door rather than Crawford.
A strong showing both defensively and offensively over the next couple weeks could allow Crawford to remain on the active roster for an organization very thin at shortstop.