Reggie Crawford

Giants minor league notes: Crawford on unique pitching path

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SAN FRANCISCO -- When Reggie Crawford was selected No. 30 overall in the 2022 MLB Draft and announced as a two-way player, he immediately became one of the more interesting prospects the Giants have ever had. Less than two years later, Crawford solely is focused on pitching, but his path remains a fascinating one. 

The Giants pushed Crawford to Double-A Richmond this season despite the fact that he has just 19 innings of experience as a professional, and since making his Flying Squirrels debut as a starter on April 16, the left-hander has pitched every four days. The last three appearances have come out of the bullpen, and Crawford has thrown five innings overall in those four games. It's a bit of an odd structure, but it's all by design.

"He's just such a unique case study with the lack of college reps, pro reps, the injuries, so ultimately it's just (meant to) get him in the game, let him pitch, and then give him adequate time to recover and make sure he can do his program between outings," said Kyle Haines, the organization's senior director of player development. "He's doing the lifting, the running, the bullpen sessions, and then we get him in the game. It's not just the game reps, it's also the in-between-outings reps because he hasn't had those, either."

Crawford pitched just eight innings at Connecticut before Tommy John surgery ended his college career, and the Giants were extremely cautious with the rehab and game plan when he got to the minor leagues. There have been some minor hiccups, too, including a lat strain that kept him out of Cactus League action this spring, when he was a non-roster invitee to big league camp.

Throw in the fact that Crawford was a two-way player last year and this truly is a unique path. That's why the Giants are focused just about entirely on getting him pitching reps this season. 

Crawford has allowed just three hits and struck out eight in those five innings, with three walks and two earned runs on his line. But the numbers this year don't really matter much. 

"Number one, he's healthy and on the mound. That's the main goal, and you could argue the only goal -- just get him on the mound and get him reps," Haines said. "He's out there and taking it in and facing some tough hitters in Double-A. We'll keep throwing him out there for one- and two-inning stints and just keep getting him on the mound as much as we can here short-term."

When Crawford is on the mound, it's electric. His fastball sits in the upper 90s and a sharp slider and changeup give him a quality three-pitch mix. He is as physically imposing as any Giants prospect, and it's not hard to picture him carrying a heavy load for a rotation one day. It's also easy to see how the Giants might get tempted to rush him to the big leagues as a hard-throwing lefty reliever in the next couple of years.

For now, they are trying not to set expectations. The goal is to get Crawford into a consistent rhythm before deciding if he gets stretched out as a starter later this summer. Haines said Crawford's repertoire right now "screams special," but because of his interesting path to Double-A, the main goal is just making sure he's pitching in some capacity through the end of the minor league season.

"We'll figure it out as it evolves," Haines said. "But the most important thing is he has just got to get on the mound, and he is, so that's awesome."

The Hitting Side

A year after selecting Crawford, the Giants took Bryce Eldridge as a two-way prospect. Scouts always figured Crawford would pitch and Eldridge would hit, and the Giants made that official before the start of this season. 

Eldridge started his year with Low-A San Jose and it's been a mixed bag so far. He missed some time with hamstring tightness and is batting just .184 through 10 games, but he also has a pair of homers and three doubles, showing off the powerful left-handed swing that has made him a top 100 prospect.

Eldridge is just 19, so he's likely to spend most or all of this season in San Jose. In addition to getting settled in at the plate, he's adjusting to life as a full-time first baseman. Eldridge played outfield last season but the Giants believe the best fit for his 6-foot-7 frame is at first base. 

"He's getting better every day at first base," Haines said. "In high school when you pitch and DH because your arm is maybe sore from pitching, you don't get the defensive reps of somebody who played only one position. There's obviously a learning curve defensively and he has done a fantastic job."

Eldridge is one of three players 21-and-under grouped together near the top of the organization's top 30, per MLB Pipeline, but he's the only one currently on the field. Walker Martin, last year's second-round pick and the Giants' No. 4 prospect, is sidelined by a hamstring strain. Fifth-ranked Rayner Arias, an 18-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, will spend his season in the Arizona Complex League, which doesn't begin until next month.

Marco's Mature Approach

Nick Ahmed leads NL shortstops in Outs Above Average and has done enough at the plate to keep the Giants from worrying about the position, so barring an injury, Marco Luciano won't be up anytime soon. But the Giants do like what they've seen from the 22-year-old early on.

Luciano is hitting .292 with a .828 OPS through his first month back in Triple-A and has shown improved plate discipline. He has 32 strikeouts to 21 walks, with the strikeout rate being his lowest since High-A and the walk rate ranking as the highest of his professional career.

That's a step in the right direction for a top prospect who still needs to lower those strikeout numbers and tap into more of his raw power to stick at the big league level. Luciano briefly had an inside track to the shortstop job at Oracle Park, but with Ahmed and Tyler Fitzgerald on the big league roster, he can focus on development. 

"He's still very young experience-wise. He's young age-wise, but he's very young experience-wise," Haines said. "He has been around the Giants a long time but he has missed so much time with injuries and the Covid year and all these other variables. He's just getting better and better with more reps and more game experience and I think some of that is starting to emerge with the plate discipline and the defense."

Proud Parents

Nobody had a better weekend than the Bertrand family. John Michael Bertrand, a left-hander taken in the 10th round two years ago, was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after throwing seven perfect innings on Saturday. But someone else in his family might have taken bragging rights.

On the same day, JD Bertrand, John Michael's younger brother, was taken in the fifth round of the 2024 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. JD, a linebacker, went to Notre Dame, which is also John Michael's alma mater. 

John Michael has a 2.03 ERA in five Double-A appearances this season. His seven perfect innings came a night after Hayden Birdsong threw five hitless innings to lower his ERA to 1.65.

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