Some questions have plagued mankind throughout the course of history. Are we alone in the universe? What happens after we die? How in the world is Kutter Crawford only the 18th-ranked prospect in the Red Sox farm system? Of all these questions, the last one the hardest to grasp. The former 16th-round pick has dominated Single-A hitting ever since arriving in the farm system and should see his stock rise dramatically over the 2019 season.
Red Sox Prospects: Kutter Crawford
Crawford pitched just one inning during the 2017 campaign, so in many ways, 2018 worked as a rookie season for the right-handed starter. And what a season it was. Crawford came out of absolutely nowhere to have one of the best seasons of anybody in the Red Sox farm.
Crawford made 27 starts between the Low-A Greenville Drive and the High-A Salem Red Sox. During those outings, Crawford posted a 3.26 ERA and an impressive 2.99 FIP. He struck out 9.84 batters per nine innings and averaged 5.1 innings pitched per start, which isn’t a bad rate for Single-A.
The 22-year old righty spent the majority of his season with Greenville Drive, earning a 2.96 ERA and a 3.12 ERA at the Low-A level. Crawford earned a spot with High-A Salem to finish the year. While his ERA in Salem jumped to 4.31, his FIP actually dropped to 2.53. This implies Crawford was significantly unlucky with batted balls, and his .346 BABIP backs up that assessment.
Fittingly, Crawford’s best pitch is his cutter. The righty added the pitch to his repertoire prior to the 2017 season, and it’s made all the difference for him. The pitch has strong breaking motion with velocity in the mid- to high-80’s. He complements this pitch with an average fastball and curveball, along with a sparingly-used changeup.
His cutter is his only above-average offering, but he’s making the most of his pitch tool. His strikeout rate is above average and he’s inducing poor contact. Minor league baseball doesn’t track hard contact rate, but they do track contact type. Crawford allowed a 39.8% ground ball rate in Greenville and a 43.2% ground ball rate in Salem. While those numbers are good on their own, he also induced infield flies on 30% of his fly ball contact.
Basically, this is exactly what you want to see out of a young pitcher. He strikes out a lot of guys and forces poor contact when batters do put it in play. If he had the exact same numbers but was selected in the fifth round, he’d be a borderline top-10 prospect in the system.
What to Work On
The biggest thing for Crawford to work on is improving his command. Crawford finished his 2018 season walking 3.01 batters per nine innings. Generally speaking, a 3.0 BB/9 is generally seen as the divider between an acceptable walk rate and a bad one. Crawford is right on that meridian and should try to work on locating his pitches.
Aside from the walk rate, Crawford needs to prove that 2018 wasn’t a fluke. Literally, nobody expected this type of a season out of Crawford. He first arrived on a lot of people’s radar after a dominant April and because his best pitch is also his name. However, he kept it up all season long and he’s generated a serious amount of buzz.
Scouts and evaluators are still a little worried about his ability to do it again, as evidenced by his 18th-overall ranking in the Red Sox system. However, if he proves that 2018 was the real deal, he’ll continue to climb through the rankings. All the peripherals suggest this success is here to stay, but baseball is a fickle game. Guys have one great year all the time before randomly disappearing. Having two straight good years can go a long way in solidifying Crawford’s status in the system.
Crawford had a fantastic first season in the farm, but he’s still a ways away from major league play. Expect Crawford to start the year in Salem, but he might not stay there too long. Typically guys stay in Single-A either because they’re not good enough to make the jump to Double-A or because they’re trying to learn a new pitch or technique.
Neither scenario applies to Crawford. He’s already shown the ability to perform well against High-A talent, and he already has three or four decent-to-good pitches. Crawford’s only had six starts in Salem, and sending him straight to Portland would probably be pushing him too much. However, if he picks up in 2019 where he left off, it won’t be long before he’s in Portland.
Call me an optimist, but I believe that the Kutter Crawford from 2018 is here to stay. He won’t be in the majors in 2019 under any circumstance, but he has the potential to make it as a call-up in 2020. The biggest question will be if he makes it as a starter or a reliever. Ultimately, that decision will be decided by his walk rate and if he can make one of his secondary pitches a little more explosive.