TRENTON – The Eastern League is often viewed by many baseball scouts and insiders as the biggest test a young player will face on their hopeful journey to the major leagues. For Thunder centerfielder Rashad Crawford, his first two weeks at the Double-A level have proved to be a test of making adjustments, and it is one that he has embraced despite early struggles.
“I have just been working on taking it one day at a time,” explained Crawford. “That is one of the big things that I tend to focus on. I think I am starting to get the hang of it and starting to settle in and just adjusting to the weather and playing every day. ”
Through 11 games with Trenton, the 23-year old Crawford has hit .214 while serving as the leadoff man in Manager Bobby Mitchell’s potent lineup.
As a table setter Crawford is relied on heavily to get on base and put pressure on the opposing defense. With productive hitters like Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Mike Ford and Billy McKinney often following him on any given night, Crawford just has to get on base, and the odds are good that somebody will drive him around to score.
“I have been leading off for quite some time, and I am comfortable with wherever they put me in the lineup,” said Crawford. “It’s a good feeling knowing that if you get on base, there are some guys behind you that can really drive in runs. It helps me out, and it helps them out as far as me scoring runs and them getting RBI’s.”
In 42 at-bats, Crawford has recorded nine hits and has scored nine runs. When he has managed to reach base, Trenton has often been able to convert them into runs. Part of getting Crawford on base more frequently is adjusting to the dynamics of upper-level pitching for the very first time.
In the Florida State League, pitchers can often succeed without pinpoint command or utilization of their secondary pitches. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hitters are often able to capitalize on young pitchers trying to develop those aspects of their game at that level. As hitters develop a feel for their approach and progress through the farm system, the pitching that they see also vastly improves and usually have a better understanding for pitchability.
“The pitching here is a huge difference,” said Crawford. “You get up in the count and expect one pitch, and they throw another. It is all about adjustments; I think throughout the season that is one of the things that I have to work on.”
Crawford is an imposing figure; he stands at 6’3″ and is a rock-solid 225-pounds – not your typical frame for a leadoff hitter. The former high school basketball star is equipped with above average speed and has a long and effortless stride when running the bases. So far in 2017, the Atlanta, Georgia native is 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts after swiping 26 in 33 chances in 2016 in High-A.
“Once I get on base I want to get myself into scoring position to help the team,” Crawford said. “If I get a pitch to go on then I am going to take it.”
Once a switch-hitter, the Cubs turned Crawford exclusively into a left-handed batter, and it has allowed him to find comfort at the plate. He has seen his strikeout percentage decline each of the last three seasons while both his walk and on-base percentages have steadily increased.
“The Yankees didn’t view Crawford as a throw-in when they made that trade last summer,” explained one National League scout. “He has a lot of tools, and they believe he will be able to harness them and play in the bigs eventually.”