Crawford, 23, has gone 33-26 with a 3.22 ERA in 107 games, including 88 starts, over five seasons in the Dodgers' system. He was not ranked among their top prospects, but the Brewers view him as a lefty starter with a good pitch mix and deception in his delivery. He is scheduled to report to Milwaukee's Minor League camp in Spring Training.
Combine his handedness with his lack of overwhelming fastball velocity -- he throws in the upper 80s to 90 mph range, president of baseball operations David Stearns said -- and there might be a comparable pitcher on the Brewers’ roster: Brent Suter.
“He relies on deception and changing his offerings, so there is some of that. I think they use their deception a little bit differently,” Stearns said. “Brent, obviously working really fast and uses that to his advantage. Leo, when we watch him with his actual pitching mechanics and motion, he will vary timing in order to disrupt the hitters a little bit. They are two left-handed pitchers who have had success by not having overpowering fastballs.”
Crawford is a native of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, who signed with the Dodgers as an international free agent in 2014. While he has posted solid numbers throughout his climb up the Minor League ladder, his strikeout rate jumped significantly during the '19 season.
Splitting the year between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, Crawford went a combined 7-4 with a 2.81 ERA in 25 games, including 21 starts. He struck out 134 batters and walked only 27 while allowing 10 homers over 121 2/3 innings that year. That 9.9 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate was a noticeable improvement from 2017 (6.5) and ’18 (7.3). What was the difference?
“In terms of his change of approach, I think he's just more confident in what he's done, and he has learned to use his timing mechanisms probably to little bit of a greater effect,” Stearns said. “His changeup has improved, which is probably his best offspeed offering. That has helped him against particularly opposite-handed hitters.”
Coming out of camp next season, Crawford could begin the year in Double-A or Triple-A depending on how the Brewers’ big league and Triple-A rosters shake out. He does not need to be placed on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster, and he will have three Minor League options whenever he is added to the roster. The completion of this trade was essentially held up to ensure that he was not selected in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.
Crawford didn’t pitch in an organized setting last season, either in the Majors or at an alternate training site. Stearns said the lefty spent the majority of the year in Nicaragua, where he is currently pitching in winter ball, and acknowledged that it was “probably a frustrating year for him” because he otherwise might have gotten his first sustained look in Triple-A during a normal season.
The Brewers will give Crawford a chance to work as a starting pitcher. But considering the way they use their hurlers, he could ultimately function in that role or as a multi-inning arm out of the bullpen.
“In a conventional baseball sense, we will see him as a starter, and he will log innings for us,” Stearns said. “We also understand that roles can change depending on the needs of any particular roster at one point, but he certainly has the ability to start. He can work multiple pitches. He's got an arm that can log innings and so we would view him as someone who can consume innings.”