Kutter Crawford is on the rise in the Boston Red Sox farm system
Featured image courtesy of the Greenville Drive and the MiLB
GREENVILLE, SC- Across the major leagues, teams are gearing up for the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft. It is period of time filled with mutual excitement for the teams doing the drafting and the players being drafted. More importantly, it is an enterprise designed to provide hope that the draftees will be transformative pieces at the big-league level. Without this “hope,” the draft would cease to exist. Fortunately, it does and each team is allotted 40 selections each year with the prospect that they will find the next Mike Trout or Chris Sale.
As logic would have it, the chances of finding those franchise-altering players diminishes the later into the draft rounds a team gets. Better players are usually picked earlier in the 40-round frenzy, but this is not always the case because drafts are built on educated guesses, after all. “Which player will be more valuable than the other?” is a question that can ultimately only be answered by time. This impossible-to-predict nature of drafting amateur baseball players has allowed the Boston Red Sox to potentially land one of the biggest steals in the 16th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft in right-handed pitcher Kutter Crawford.
Despite an underwhelming performance in his start against the Augusta GreenJackets on Wednesday night, Crawford has been spectacular for Single-A Greenville this season. Through 52 and 2/3 innings, the Florida Gulf Coast alum has pitched to the tune of 2.22 ERA with a hefty amount of strikeouts (64) and not all that many free passes (15).
At this stage of his career, those underlying statistics, the peripherals (strikeouts and walks), are hugely important, as they tend to be more predictive of future success than pure run prevention. This bodes well for the 6’1″ righty because he is striking out over a batter per inning (10.94 K/9) and running a solidly low 2.56 BB/9.
Crawford did much of the same for FGCU performance-wise in his one year with the team. In fact, the 22-year-old possessed the 8th-lowest ERA (1.71) in the NCAA in 2017, while recording the most punch outs (99) by any Florida Gulf Coast pitcher since a guy, who may ring a bell, named Chris Sale. Before joining FGCU, Crawford pitched for Indian River State College in 2015 and 2016. He had decent success there but nothing about it was eye-catching. The decision to transfer schools was a big one, however, his decision to implement a cutter into his pitch mix was even bigger.
In a piece by MLB.com’s Ian Browne about Kutter Crawford’s development of the cutter, he admits to adding it to his repertoire in the winter before the 2017 season. The development of the cutter was instrumental to his performance turnaround in college and has been just as important and effective in his first year in professional baseball.
“He can go to it any point. When the guys start getting aggressive, he can throw that in there and run ‘em out of bat and get weak contact, so he gets early outs with that,” said Greenville Drive catcher Charlie Madden.
The cutter sits between 85-87 mph, which SoxProspects describes as having “hard, late cutting action.” It is no secret that it has become his go-to pitch and has the ability to generate weak contact and strikeouts. In terms of weak contact, his Fangraphs’ page suggests he has generated an insane 32.0 IFFB% (infield fly ball percentage) for Greenville.
For reference, Jacob deGrom leads the MLB with a 24.4 IFFB%. Now, the truth is minor league batted ball data is a little unreliable, especially in comparison to the majors. Most likely, he has not really yielded such a large percentage of infield fly balls, which are almost always outs. Still, it appears that he does get quite a few of them — certainly more than the average pitcher — and the cutter seems to be a big reason why. After all, it is heralded as the “weak contact” offering.
Crawford complements the cutter with a fastball that typically sits between 91-93 mph but tops out at 94 mph, a changeup that is a work in progress and a big curveball between 76-79 mph, which also needs some polishing in the consistency department. Regardless, he is able to throw all four pitches for strikes, according to his teammates and coaches. With this exciting four-pitch mix, there are glimpses of a big-league pitcher package, especially if he hones his off-speed and breaking stuff. In what capacity (reliever or starter), remains to be seen.
SoxProspects also had another interesting comment regarding his delivery as he got deeper into the game: “There is effort in his delivery, and his four-pitch mix flattened considerably while his command faltered after the first inning, indicating a relief profile down the road.”
Even so, Crawford has jumped considerably on the site’s Red Sox prospect ranking from 59th to 35th. He’s gaining momentum and there is anecdotal evidence of improvement, in addition to the outstanding stats.
“His command is improving, his all around pitching is improving every day. So is his ability to start reading swings and pitching smarter,” said Drive assistant manager Bryan Anderson, a former big-league catcher.
Aligning with what Anderson spoke of before his Wednesday start, the Florida-native has gotten better as the season has progressed. Coming into Wednesday, he had allowed just three earned runs in his past five starts, logging over five innings in each one. The last two outings were especially dominant, as he struckout 17 batters and walked just one.
At the end of the day, only time will dictate what Kutter Crawford will become as a pitcher. He has a long way to go and a lot to prove before he reaches the majors. Still, what he has been able to do so far in 2018 is not typical of a 16th-round draft pick. There is a growing sense of excitement about the potential he has and, from all indications, it could not happen to a better guy, according to Anderson.
“He’s great a clubhouse guy, he’s a great leader. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.”