A left-handed Skenes? Giants love top pick on mound but have him hitting in the AFL

October 11th, 2023

has better pure stuff than almost any left-hander in baseball. His fastball sits at 95-97 mph and tops out at 100 with plenty of carry at the top of the strike zone. He backs up his heater with a mid-80s slider that reaches 88 mph while combining velocity and depth.

One Giants official likened him to a left-handed version of Paul Skenes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 Draft by the Pirates. Crawford is currently with the Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions -- but he’s only going to serve as a DH/first baseman.

This is the latest step in an atypical development path for Crawford, who missed the entire 2022 college season at Connecticut following Tommy John surgery the previous October. San Francisco still drafted him 30th overall and signed him for a slightly under-slot $2,297,500.

The consensus is that Crawford, No. 8 on San Francisco's Top 30 Prospects list, has a brighter future on the mound, but the Giants have handled him with extreme care in his return from elbow reconstruction. He didn’t pitch at all in his first pro summer and worked just 19 innings between Single-A and High-A in 2023. He posted a 2.84 ERA and struck out 32 of the 82 batters he faced.

To decrease his downtime, San Francisco gave him 21 plate appearances in Rookie ball in 2022 and 19 at his two Class A stops this summer. He has batted .194/.250/.333 in that small sample size but features at least plus raw power and led the Big East Conference with 13 homers in 2021.

While he’ll probably focus on pitching in the long run, Crawford appreciates the opportunity to see what he can do as a two-way player.

“I'm definitely thankful that I am being able to get some at-bats here just because the progression coming back from TJ, it was moreso just kind of get my feet wet again. Get on the mound, get some innings in, get some ABs. But we were just being very cautious about making sure that we were controlling the workload because we didn't want to go zero to 100.

“So I kind of figured that I wouldn't get as many at-bats and would kind of just get just a few innings throughout the season. But now I'm definitely excited to get some ABs and just kind of approach this as just a first baseman, just to kind of get back in the game because it's been so long since I've hit consistently in a game.”

It’s a daunting task for Crawford to try to handle AFL pitching -- considered roughly Double-A caliber -- with such limited pro experience. During the Minor League season, he said he tried to get some mental reps by talking to hitters about their thought process or by tracking balls off a pitching machine even if he didn’t take swings.

In his first five starts for the Scorpions, Crawford went 2-for-18 with 12 strikeouts. There’s little track record to indicate what type of pitcher or hitter he might become, but he appreciates the challenge of trying to develop as a two-way player.

“It's kind of just like trusting the process and having a vision for what we want to do in the future,” Crawford said. “I won't let the fear of something being difficult be the reason for me not to attempt it.

“What excites me the most is that I don't even know what I look like as a pitcher or as a hitter. We are where we are right now without even having that. The question marks excite me.”

Giants hitters in the Fall League

Carter Howell, OF: A nondrafted free agent who signed out of NCAA Division II Augustana (S.D.) in 2022, Howell fits the extra-outfielder profile with his ability to do a little bit of everything and play all three outfield spots. He hit .295/.369/.442 with 10 homers and 14 steals in 119 games between Single-A and High-A.

Zach Morgan, C/1B: Drafted in the seventh round out of Fresno State in 2022, Morgan is a contact-hitting catcher who provides solid defense behind the plate. He batted .265/.363/.396 with six homers in 85 games at two Class A stops.

Giants pitchers in the Fall League

Will Bednar, RHP (No. 26): Bednar was the MVP of the 2021 College World Series after leading Mississippi State to its first national title and the 14th overall pick that June, but he has had persistent back problems throughout his first two full pro seasons. He worked just 10 2/3 innings in Rookie ball this year before showing a 93-94 mph fastball and an 85-86 mph slider in early AFL action.

Jack Choate, LHP: A deceptive left-hander with a low arm slot, an 88-91 mph fastball and good feel for an upper-70s slider and changeup, Choate was a ninth-rounder out of NCAA Division II Assumption (Mass.) in 2022. He posted a 2.25 ERA, .199 opponent average and 87/24 K/BB ratio in 68 innings between Single-A and High-A.

Marques Johnson, RHP: Acquired from the Red Sox in a July deal for Mauricio Llovera, Johnson has a lively 93-95 mph fastball and flashes a plus curveball with high spin rates. He compiled a 4.27 ERA, .211 opponent average and 63 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings in Single-A. He didn’t allow an earned run in 11 appearances after the trade.

Seth Lonsway, LHP: A 2021 sixth-round pick from Ohio State, Lonsway gets groundballs with his 91-96 mph fastball and misses bats with his power curveball. He logged a 5.87 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 89 innings in High-A.

Hayden Wynja, LHP: After bouncing from Purdue to Lincoln Trial (Ill.) CC to South Florida to Murray State, Wynja signed with the Giants as a nondrafted free agent in 2022. A 6-foot-9 lefty with deceptive angle, a low-90s fastball and a quality slider, he recorded a 4.16 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings between Single-A and High-A.