Outside of Triple-A baseball, which began the day after Major League Baseball did, the 2023 Minor League Baseball season is about to kick off as prospects work to fulfill their dreams of playing in the big leagues. Although he has not played a professional game outside of Rookie Ball, Reggie Crawford is a name to watch in the San Francisco Giants organization, especially since he has the potential to make major noise in the minor leagues.
The Giants find themselves in a dilemma over how to use Crawford, especially given their current roster. San Francisco has a decent pitching staff featuring one lefty starter and at least three in the bullpen, according to ESPN’s depth chart. Their infield is a different story as LaMonte Wade Jr. is the projected starting first baseman, backed up by utility players Wilmer Flores, JD Davis and Matt Beaty. In the farm system, the Giants have four pitchers and three infielders in their MLB.com Top 10 rankings, with none of the infielders playing on the right side of the pitcher’s mound.
San Francisco has three options for how to use Crawford this upcoming season and beyond. They could develop him as a southpaw with two plus pitches, a left-handed slugger with plus power or develop both of his skills simultaneously and make him a two-way player similar to Shohei Ohtani. While two-way players are extremely rare in professional baseball, developing Crawford as one might work given his collegiate career.
Crawford, who committed to UConn in 2018, dominated on both sides of the ball during his senior season at North Schuylkill High School in Ashland, Penn., batting .482 with eight homers and 39 RBIs while going 4-2 with 49 punchouts in eight appearances on the mound. Crawford also participated in the Area Code Games and the East Coast Pro, both of which featured some of the top high school players in the United States.
Turning down the chance to go pro after the Kansas City Royals selected him in the 37th round of the 2019 MLB Draft, Crawford became a force in the Hook C lineup in the spring of 2020. Starting all 13 games at first base, Crawford batted .365 with a team-leading 16 RBIs and one dinger. The 2020 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American collected his first career hit against Kumar Rocker, who got selected in the first round of the MLB Draft two years in a row, while recording both a 12-game on-base streak and an 11-game hitting streak.
Crawford turned things up a notch in the spring of 2021. After pitching once during the COVID-19-shortened season of 2020, the southpaw made six appearances and one start, going 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Crawford played most of his games at first base, batting .295 in 51 games with 62 hits, 62 RBIs, the fourth-most in a single season in program history, 11 doubles and 13 homers. Still a freshman, he earned Second Team All-Big East honors as a first baseman and ABCA Second Team Northeast All-Region honors with teammates Kevin Ferrer and Caleb Wurster. Crawford had huge potential heading into 2022, but his sophomore campaign abruptly ended when he needed Tommy John surgery, or UCL reconstruction in October 2021. Before suffering his elbow injury, the southpaw worked on his pitching with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League and the USA Baseball Collegiate Team.
Following a season where the Huskies advanced to their second-ever Super Regional, Crawford transferred to the University of Tennessee, the only other program to finish with at least 50 wins in the nation. But before he made an appearance for the Vols, the Giants selected Crawford with the 30th overall pick in the MLB draft, making him the highest Husky selected since the Boston Red Sox took Matt Barnes 19th overall in 2011. This time, Crawford agreed to a $2.3 million signing bonus with San Francisco and went pro.
Given his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Crawford did not see much action in professional baseball during the 2022 season. The lefty played in six games for the ACL Giants Black Team all as a hitter and recorded three hits in 38 plate appearances. With approximately a week of professional experience, the question now turns to how the Giants will use the two-way player across (hopefully) an entire season.
Heading into 2023, MLB.com ranked Crawford as San Francisco’s No. 9 prospect, with his ETA to the big leagues projected for 2025. The website lists him as the No. 3 southpaw in the system behind top prospect Kyle Harrison and 2022 second-round selection Carson Whisenhunt, even though he has not thrown a baseball since 2021. Given a 50 overall pitching grade, Crawford sports a 70 fastball that can cross triple digits and a 60 slider, ranging in the mid-80s while possessing plus raw power at the plate.
Compare what Crawford has done in college with what Ohtani is currently doing in the majors. He won American League Rookie of the Year and the AL MVP in 2021 with 46 home runs and 156 strikeouts. Even though he finished second in MVP voting behind Aaron Judge last season, Ohtani became the first player in Major League history with 30 home runs and 200 strikeouts in the same season. Recently, the two-time All-Star took home World Baseball Classic MVP honors as Team Japan won their third championship.
While Crawford will not be the next Ohtani, he has the skillset to be both a lethal flame-throwing lefty and a dynamic slugger in the Major Leagues. Even if he is not developed as a two-way player, Crawford’s high upside will propel him to become a top five prospect in the organization by the 2024 season as the Giants work to return to the postseason. As his path to the majors becomes a little clearer, Crawford’s abilities will catch the attention of baseball fans everywhere.