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Better know a draft prospect: Justin Crawford

Speed? Bloodlines? You’re talking the Royals’ language.

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The July 17 draft is fast approaching, and with the Royals mired in last place, they’ll need an infusion of talent to get them back into contention. They own the #9 pick in the draft, and after gambling on high school pitcher Frank Mozzicato in the first round last year, they’ll be under a lot of scrutiny to get this pick right.

One name they have been linked to in recent weeks is high school outfielder Justin Crawford out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. Baseball America writes that “Crawford’s name is getting plenty of buzz in this 10-15 range” and his name has been linked to the Royals as high as #9. Jim Callis at MLB Pipeline writes the Royals “are one of several teams in on the fast-rising Crawford, who’s moving past some of the second-tier college hitters.” Kiley McDaniel at ESPN writes that Crawford “might be the undercut option if the Royals want to take a similar path to last year.”

Justin Crawford is the son of former All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford. Like his father, Justin is a toolsy athlete whose calling card is plus speed. Keith Law writes that Justin is better on defense with a stronger arm. The 18-year-old left-handed hitter stands at 6’3’’, but just 175 pounds and will need to fill out some as a pro. Because of his lanky build, he does not hit for much power, and despite some projectability, scouts doubt him ever hitting many home runs.

Baseball America praises his “solid bat-to-ball skills” and noted he had a “slappy approach” in the showcase circuit last summer. He has since added muscle and begun driving the ball more. They like his contact skills, but note his “swing can get lengthy”, and Keith Law writes he “can expand the zone too easily for a player whose game right now is built around contact and speed.” MLB Pipeline also adds he is “more of a slap hitter now, content to let his legs do the work, but there’s some whip in his swing and he can sit back and drive the ball the other way, with added strength to help him in the power department in the future.”

MLB Pipeline ranks him as the #13 prospect in the draft, Baseball America ranks him #18, Keith Law has him at #19, and Kiley McDaniel ranks him at #44. Crawford is committed to playing at LSU.

The Royals have long coveted speed and if there is an area in the farm system that is thin, it would be in the outfield, particularly center field. Playing in Kauffman Stadium requires a ballhawk in centerfield, and Crawford could fit that bill. He also has the bloodlines the Royals love (like Bobby Witt Jr.) as the son of a former big leaguer.

The lack of power is a concern, although prep hitters do have more projectability and he could fill out some. His dad hit few minor league home runs, and just five in his first full MLB season, but eventually became a 15-20 home run hitter. Justin will need to learn to drive the ball more if he wants to utilize those deep alleys at Kauffman Stadium and become a doubles and triples threat.

Crawford is rising up draft boards, but may still be a bit of a reach at #9. The Royals could try to cut an underslot deal to sign someone overslot later in the draft. Crawford will participate in the MLB Draft Combine, and if he submits to a pre-draft physical, he will be entitled to at least 75 percent of his slot value when drafted.