Why Giants ‘fell in love' with prospect Crawford's two-way talent

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Reggie Crawford slid into a batting practice group last Wednesday at Oracle Park and instantly looked like he belonged.

The 21-year-old sprayed line drives into the gaps and then started lofting balls over the center field wall. He hit several high draws into the arcade in right-center, including one that measured at 450 feet. And, because every hitter must learn the tough lessons of Oracle Park, he lined a few rockets that would have been out of any ballpark he has ever played in but bounced off the padded wall in Triples Alley.

At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Crawford already looks the part of a middle-of-the-order slugger. He also happens to throw 100 mph when he gets on the mound.

The Giants have had a lot of interesting prospects over the years, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say Crawford, taken with the final pick of the first round in last month's draft, has a chance to be their most unique minor leaguer. 

When he was drafted, the Giants surprised some in the industry by announcing Crawford as a two-way player. Their first up-close experience with Crawford hasn't dimmed that enthusiasm. 

Crawford won't pitch this summer because he's still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but when he arrives in Scottsdale next spring, he will be a starting pitcher and a first baseman. Will he ultimately turn into Shohei Ohtani 2.0? Will his inexperience on the mound force the Giants to focus on the power at the plate? Will the injury risk for a position player sway them into making him a hard-throwing lefty starter? Will neither path work?

The Giants don't know. 

Ask team officials about Crawford's ultimate future, and they often shrug. And then they smile. They took a big swing with their first draft pick, and they're simply eager to see how it all plays out at this point. 

"We still don't know which path is the best one for him, so why not develop them both," said Michael Holmes, the organization's director of amateur scouting,  "I think he could be an excellent future first baseman and an excellent future pitcher. I'm just not sure his route is quite defined yet."

The selection was not a totally unprecedented one for the Giants. Two years ago, the Giants used the 49th overall pick on San Diego State star Casey Schmitt, a third baseman who also had 23 saves in college. There were some whispers that summer that Schmitt could try both, but the Giants felt he was so advanced defensively that it would only slow him down if they tried to keep him on the mound, too. 

Two years later, Schmitt is one of their fastest-rising prospects. He posted a .837 OPS with 17 homers in High-A before earning a recent promotion to Double-A, and the glove continues to be so elite that some evaluators have compared him to former Athletics star Matt Chapman. The Giants believe Schmitt is one of the best defenders they have ever developed, and he likely will be the heir apparent to Evan Longoria at third base. 

Crawford is not as polished as Schmitt was coming out of college, but the raw tools are astounding. He hit 13 homers last season and showed off easy power during his BP session. On the mound, Giants scouts have clocked him up to 101 mph. 

It is a package that almost certainly would have landed Crawford in the top 15 picks had it not been for Tommy John surgery. He had the procedure last fall and is still rehabbing, and because there were questions about his health, he's doing it with the Giants. 

"The consensus was that if this guy would have played all spring, he doesn't even get to our pick," said director of player development Kyle Haines.

Haines and his staff ultimately will be in charge of charting Crawford's path. Asked why he believes playing both sides is a good idea, Haines pointed out that the most important thing for the Giants is the passion Crawford has shown in trying this unusual development plan.

"He's more passionate about doing it than probably anybody else, and he really believes in himself to be able to do both and be really productive at both," Haines said. "He wanted to do it in college and even before the draft, he thought people instantly dismissed him as a hitter, but this guy led the Big East in home runs and was an outstanding offensive player. I think deep down inside he still believes in himself as a true two-way player that can impact both sides of the ball."

Crawford's development will be fascinating to follow, but the initial steps will be small ones. The Giants are being extremely cautious with the rehab process right now, and Crawford won't pitch in games until next spring. 

He is likely to start next season with Low-A San Jose, pitching one or two innings at a time and playing first base or DH the rest of the week. Crawford only threw eight total innings at the University of Connecticut, so even when you take out the fact that he had Tommy John, you're dealing with a very slow buildup. If he throws 30 or 40 total innings next year and comes away healthy, the Giants will breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next step. 

"On the mound, it's still a really fresh arm. There's not a lot of innings," Holmes said. "He's a guy that we've seen pitch and we love his arm strength, we love his ability to spin the ball and throw strikes, but we also love the ability to play first base. He's a plus defender with power. I think there's still room to develop from both sides of the fence on this one, from the mound and position-player wise."

When he stopped by Oracle Park on Wednesday, Crawford said that development aspect is what excites him the most.

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"I have a lot of room to grow with both, and that's what really I'm excited about," he said during an interview on "Giants Talk." "To use technology and to pick everybody's brains, to be around great players [and] I feel as though I'm going to kind of get that and take off with it and maximize it as much as possible."

If he prefers one side of the ball or feels stronger one way or the other, Crawford isn't tipping his hand. He said he's "split 50-50" and will "let the play decide."

The Giants will, too. The development of every prospect is unpredictable and they have no idea if this will work, but they feel like there's a high floor. They have talked a lot internally about ways to maximize the big league roster, and whether it's Crawford or someone else, the Giants at some point hope to have a player who can contribute offensively but also soak up innings in a productive way.

They gave an early taste of that with a brief Luis González experiment earlier this year, and at the very least, Crawford could be a supercharged version of that production. If he develops as hoped, though, the Giants could have the kind of talent they've never had before. 

As the process gets going, they are more than willing to bet on the talent and on the person who is trying to follow in Ohtani's footsteps. 

"Most teams probably thought of him as a pitcher first, but Michael Holmes and his staff did their homework. I'd say our scouts did more homework on Reggie Crawford than any team in baseball," Haines said. "It's one of those things that the more we talked to him, observed him and dug in on him, the more we all fell in love with him."

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