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Toolsy Crawford nears dream of playing pro ball

Nephew of Dodgers outfielder emerging as top middle infielder in Draft class

As a child, while learning the game of baseball on the sidelines at his older sister's softball practices, J.P. Crawford set a goal for his life: to play baseball professionally.

So, while assessing his Draft prospects and determining whether he feels ready to make the jump to a Major League farm system straight out of high school, Crawford's mantra is simple.

"It's always been my dream," he said. "Why not just take it now?"

Few can argue with Crawford's immense potential. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound shortstop from Lakewood High School in California is projected by as the Draft's top-rated middle infielder and the No. 19 prospect overall in the class.

Crawford, the nephew of Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford, figures to sit toward the top of plenty of Draft boards, given his outstanding athleticism, his superb arm and a smooth left-handed, line-drive stroke that could develop some pop down the line.

Recently, Crawford received an invite to the First-Year Player Draft in Secaucus, N.J., June 6-8. He's a virtual lock to be selected on Night 1, which encompasses the first two rounds and will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on Rounds 3-40 will be streamed live on on June 7-8.'s Draft coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Clearly, Crawford's future is bright. So what exactly is he most excited about? In typical Crawford fashion, he keeps that answer simple and baseball-centric.

"I'm most excited about just going out there and being able to play baseball still and have fun," he said. "It'll be a job now, but I'm just excited to play more baseball."

Crawford committed to USC last summer, and for a while it appeared he would be headed there this fall rather than to the Minor Leagues. But his stock has risen in the past couple months, putting Crawford on the brink of being selected high enough to make that college commitment immaterial.

Spud O'Neil, Crawford's high school coach, called him the best all-around talent he's coached in 30 seasons at Lakewood High. That's high praise from O'Neil, who has seen his fair share of big-league talent.

"You never know for sure," O'Neil said about Crawford when assessing his next-level potential. "But I've had Chris Gomez, Damion Easley, Travis d'Arnaud, who is with the Mets, Mike Carp with the Red Sox -- J.P. fits right in there with all those guys."

Crawford factored into O'Neil's club from Day 1. In 2010, Crawford became the first freshman to start at Lakewood -- a Southern California baseball giant -- since O'Neil arrived in 1984.

"[Crawford] hits, he hits with power, he can bunt, he's the best defensive player we've ever had," O'Neil said. "He's made tremendous plays -- all the routine ones and the diving ones."

Big league scouts have asked O'Neil about Crawford's potential as an outfielder down the road. Given Crawford's speed and arm strength, he could transition flawlessly, O'Neil said, but right now Crawford projects as one of the Draft's best defensive middle infielders, so no move appears imminent.

Crawford struggled a bit to start the 2013 campaign, hitting below .300 for much of the first month. He quickly turned that around, however, jumping to .467 by season's end. That recovery culminated in a dominant performance in the first-round of the playoffs as he almost single-handedly bested El Modena at Blair Field, Long Beach State's home stadium.

"It was filled with scouts watching, and he went 3-for-3 and had two diving plays -- one for a double play," O'Neil said. "To me, that was the defining game. It was his game that day."

Lakewood was bounced from the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in the next round, concluding a season defined by Crawford for its two halves.

"In the beginning of the season, I was pressing a little bit," Crawford said. "I was just trying to do too much at the plate. In the second half of the season, I started to have fun again. I wasn't trying to do too much.

"You have to have fun. Stay competitive, but you have to have fun."

With Crawford's tools and the right combination of good health and a good situation, he could be having fun at the next level for years to come.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.