Photo: Perfect Game

Future is now for All-Americans

Patrick Ebert

Published: Monday, July 13, 2015



Be sure to learn about the next wave of talent as the rosters for this year's Perfect Game All-American Classic are announced starting at 3:30 p.m. ET as part of a live, online streamed broadcast on MLB.com. Learn more abou the 2015 PG All-American Classic here.




Also see: PG alumni fill All-Star rosters
 
CINCINNATI – Another gathering of young talent as part of the annual All-Star Game festivities brought together another gathering of familiar faces. Five former Perfect Game All-Americans – Lucas Giolito, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Richie Shaffer and Tyler Beede – were named to the 2015 Futures Game rosters, while 19 of the 25 members that were selected to the U.S. Team were former Perfect Game participants.


Another three members of the World Team – Orlando Berrios, Edwin Ediaz and Joe Jimenez – have also spent time at Perfect Game events during their amateur careers.

Two of the former PG All-Americans were J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams, both of whom are now playing at the Double-A level for their respective organizations, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Texas Rangers, just a phone call away from making the next, and hopefully last, jump to the big leagues.

Both players have had the chance to watch some of their All-American brethren make that very jump this year, with a notable young talent infusion coming in the form of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Joey Gallo, and most recently, Francisco Lindor. These are among the best and brightest young stars of the future in Major League Baseball, and each one of them made a stop through the PG All-American Classic on their quest for greatness.

Crawford and Williams are on that very same path.

Crawford, who was recently named the No. 4 overall prospect at the midpoint of the 2015 season by Baseball Prospectus, was drafted by the Phillies in 2013 as the 16
th overall pick. A lefthanded hitting shortstop, Crawford displayed legitimate two-way abilities, with five-tool talents as a middle infielder with the ability to dial his fastball into the low-90s from the mound with a pretty sharp breaking ball to go with it.

2015 marked the second year in a row that Crawford was named to the Futures Game, going 1-for-2 a year ago, scoring on the memorable two-run blast off the bat of yet another PG All-American, Joey Gallo. This year Crawford went 1-for-3, driving a run home with an RBI single while also scoring a run on Kyle Schwarber's two-run triple.

And what makes this annual fixture of the Midsummer Classic so interesting is that the game is not so much different from PG's own All-American Classic. While the Futures Game showcases 50 of the top minor league prospects at a big-league ballpark in a U.S. vs. World team-by-team format, the PG All-American Classic does the same at Petco every August in an East vs. West matchup.

That was huge. One of the biggest moments in my life with some of the best talent coming up in the draft in high school,” Crawford said of the PG All-American Classic before the Futures Game from Cincinnati on Sunday. “It was a great honor for me and I was happy to be a part of that. I still talk to a lot of those guys. (I) played against (Rob) Kaminsky this year, Dommo (Dominic Smith), Chris (Rivera); we still talk a lot. It's all good, I'm happy that I played with all of them.”

Few players, if any, from the 2012 PG All-American Classic have enjoyed as much success as Crawford since beginning his professional career just two years ago.

He opened his career in the Gulf Coast League before getting the bump to the Low-A South Atlantic League, producing a .308/.405/.400 triple slash line between the two levels and showing little to no problems adjusting to life in pro ball.

During his first full year as a professional in 2014, once again spread across two levels (the South Atlantic League and the Florida State League), Crawford hit .285/.375/.406.

This year he once again opened the year in the Florida State League with Clearwater, but after hitting .392/.489/.443 in 21 games he was promoted in late May to play for the Fightin Phils of Reading at the Double-A level in the Eastern League, where he hit .273/.378/.400 in the 39 games prior to the Futures Game.

Playing ball. Playing baseball and living the dream,” Crawford simply put of his success since beginning his pro career. “That's about it. I'm now here in the Phillies organization, they've trained me well and they've given me chances, opportunities, to play everyday.”

With so many talented players being called up this season and enjoying an immediate impact, Crawford is one of the most talented that still remains in the minor leagues.

The thing that stands out about Crawford is the refinement at such a young age,” Baseball Prospectus' Jeff Moore told Perfect Game from Great American Ballpark on Sunday. “I saw it last year in the Florida State League (and) I've heard the same thing this year in Double-A; he just looks like he's playing on a different level than anyone else and he's one of the younger players at every level.

So it's not there's just these elite, standouts tools, it's just they're all so good and he's already such a refined player. And you just don't see that, anywhere, let alone at an up-the-middle position.”

When talking about Crawford and his future it's hard not to point out that his parent club, the Philadelphia Phillies, are currently the worst team in baseball and will be turning to talented young players to serve as part of the resurgence needed to turn the organization around. And it's not unheard of, as look no further to what former All-Americans such as Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa are doing for the Cubs and Astros.

It's a great honor for me, especially with this guy we just drafted, Aaron Nola,” Crawford said motioning to his Futures Game and Phillies organizational teammate. “He's one of the best pitchers that I've seen in the organization and the league by far. You look at the trades we made last offseason and I think we have some good pieces that will impact our future for the Phillies.”

Williams has also seen the impact young players can make on the game, as his teammate, both in the Rangers' organization and on the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic, Joey Gallo, has already received a taste of the big leagues.

They make a lot of (aggressive) moves,” the native Texan Williams said of his Rangers. “They've been calling players up, the last two years, out of Double-A really fast. Especially my teammate, (Joey) Gallo, he just went right up. It's awesome knowing I could represent my home state and that there's a chance at any time that I could help them win.”

That 2011 roster for the Classic is looking pretty special. Already mentioned are Williams, Correa, Gallo, Giolito, Russell and McCullers. Add in this year's College Pitcher of the Year, Carson Fulmer; the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, Jameis Winston, the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft and Alex Bregman to go along with Baseball Prospectus' No. 1 midseason prospect, Corey Seager, and you have a pretty special class.

Yeah that was awesome,” Williams recalled on Sunday about the level of talent he played with in 2011. “It actually feels like the same. Same environment, it was cool, (the) locker room was packed. We were around all of the best players. Now we're all so close to the big leagues, it's like an actual dream now. But that was awesome, it feels the same.”

Williams, like Crawford, also seemed to have little problems making the necessary adjustments to pro ball after being drafted by the Rangers in the second round of the 2012 draft. He gave a good idea of his overall talents offensively during his first full professional season in 2013 when he hit .293 with 19 doubles, 12 triples and 17 home runs. However, he also walked only 15 times that year as compared to 110 strikeouts.

The ratio is starting to draw closer, and while he still has work to do with his approach at the plate, he has already drawn more walk this year (27) than he did all of last season (22).

With Nick Williams it's the tools you can't teach; the elite bat speed (and) the feel for the barrel,” Moore added of Williams' talents. “The only thing that has held him back so far is the ultra-aggressive approach. But he's made really, really impressive improvements this year, and he's already at Double-A. You don't see that a lot, and they were necessary improvements for him to allow the pure talent to play against better competition. And to his credit he's made them, and now it's just a matter of finishing the refinement, put it all together and let the raw hitting ability play.”

And also similar to Crawford, Williams also had an RBI single with a run scored in Sunday's game.

Moving forward, Crawford is quick to recognize that his own consistency in all facets of the game are ultimately what will carry him to the big leagues.

Staying consistent on offense and defense,” Crawford said. “Trying to stay consistent on the field, stop making careless errors and on offense just doing what I do. Stay within myself and have fun."

Not surprisingly, Williams' primary focus was no far off from his Futures Game teammate.

My whole mindset going to the field everyday is just to learn something and to stay consistent, as consistent as I can. I think that will get me there (to the big leagues). Being the same player, being the same good teammate, pulling for my team and helping them win any way that I can.”


 

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