Crawford thriving since moving to leadoff

June 17th, 2021

There wasn’t necessarily an “aha!” moment or a light switch that flipped. It was a slow awakening over the course of the early leg of the season, a mental adjustment that has transformed him into the Mariners’ best hitter this month -- one who is slowly but surely making an All-Star bid.

And perhaps not coincidentally, this change has coincided with his ascent back into Seattle’s leadoff role, a spot in which he’s thriving.

So, what changed from Crawford’s 5-for-39 stretch in Spring Training to the .393/.455/.625 (1.080 OPS) clip he’s hit in June?

“I’m just thinking gap to gap,” Crawford said. “I'm not the type of guy who's going out there trying to hit it in the stands. My approach is more hit the gap, hitting line drives. That's my swing. That's how I’ve always hit, and I kind of got away from that. But now I'm back into that zone and sticking with that approach, and it's been working.”

Indeed, Crawford entered camp in February 10 pounds heavier, intending to create more slug to his game, thinking that the added muscle would turn some of his doubles into homers. Thing is, he’s admittedly not at his best when explicitly attempting extra bases. So, that approach had its flaws from the get-go.

Crawford has never had elite exit velocity, even if his rocket homer on the first pitch of Tuesday’s game from J.A. Happ might suggest. That was an outlier -- a hot hitter taking advantage of 90.5 mph center cut over the plate.

Rather, Crawford thrives by getting on base and allowing others to drive him in. And he’s done so in nearly half of his plate appearances since reclaiming the leadoff spot on June 1.

“J.P. has been incredible for us in the leadoff spot lately,” slugging infielder Ty France said. “Everyone always talks about his glove. He's a Gold Glove winner. But he can swing it too, and he’s doing a great job.”

Crawford batted leadoff in 48 of his 53 games in 2020, then he began Cactus League play in that spot, but was quickly dropped in favor of Mitch Haniger -- in part due to Haniger’s hitting and power profile, and in part due to Crawford’s slow start.

The Mariners then gave that spot to Jarred Kelenic when they called him up on May 13, but that proved to be a little too big of a challenge for the Mariners’ No. 1 prospect, at least at this stage in his young career.

So, when Crawford was given the opportunity again, he seized it. And he’s determined to hang on to it.

“Definitely, I don't want to move out of there,” Crawford said. “I mean, hopefully, I’m going to make it hard for someone to come take that spot again. But I mean, I'm going keep putting together these good ABs, hopefully I lock that spot up.”

Therein encompasses Crawford’s competitive mentality. Ask his teammates about his defensive mastery at shortstop, or if his bat is catching his glove, and the first thing they talk about is Crawford’s instinct. This is the player who openly told reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber: “I want to rake your face.”

“The thing you’ve got to know about J.P. is, he works,” said 11th-year Mariner Kyle Seager, who shares the left side of the infield with Crawford. “He cares. He does it. But he competes. He competes in every aspect of the game.

“Like, he absolutely just refuses to let you beat him. And I think that is a huge part. It’s a pretty special thing. It's a pretty special thing to see just that absolute competitive nature that he has.”