LAKEWOOD, N.J. - There was not much happening here on Wednesday night. The BlueClaws were already trailing, 8-0, by the bottom of the fourth inning on a chilly, rainy night by the Shore. The lone bright spot on the field for the Low-A affiliate of the Phillies was a 19-year-old prospect.
J.P. Crawford went 2-for-5 with two doubles in the BlueClaws' 10-2 loss to the Kannapolis Intimidators. He is currently the third-ranked prospect in the Phillies farm system after being drafted 16th overall in 2013.
His dream of becoming a professional baseball player started well before he heard his name called on draft night. The Lakewood, Calif., native used a natural rivalry as inspiration for his baseball career.
"One of my biggest influences was my older sister because she started playing softball and I really liked going out there and practicing with her and her team," Crawford said. "It got me going with baseball."
Crawford's sister, Eliza, 22, plays softball at Cal State Fullerton, and is batting .299 this season. The siblings used to push each other as kids to make each other better, and it has paid off for both of their careers.
"We have always had competitions in the batting cage and who could field better and stuff," Crawford recalled.
The 6-2 shortstop took the skills in the batting cage and turned them into a stellar career playing for Lakewood High School in California. He hit .452 in his senior year, which earned him a scholarship to play at the University of Southern California. He knew he would be getting drafted, it was just a matter of where. The decision to forgo college was an easy one for him.
"It has always been my dream to play major league baseball, and I thought why not get started right away," Crawford said. "Right when my name got called I made the decision."
Crawford hit .345 in 39 games with the Gulf Coast League Phillies before being called up to Lakewood for 14 games at the end of last season. He was the first player to play on Lakewood in the same year he was drafted.
He has carried his success over to this year. Through 29 games, Crawford is batting .325, and is currently on a nine-game hitting streak. He is emerging as one of the leaders in the clubhouse, despite still being a teenager.
"If the ball is hit to him with two outs and a guy at third, the inning is over," BlueClaws manager Greg Legg said. "He is getting better almost daily. It is kind of neat to watch how he is keen at getting a little better feel and is starting to take a little more leadership role and direct traffic on the infield a little bit more."
There have been some ups and downs, just as with all minor leaguers. Despite being mostly solid in the field Wednesday, he did have a throwing error on a tough grounder. But he is ready for the roller-coaster ride that is the minors.
"I'm working on keeping my head up and staying positive all the time and leading my team and having fun out here," Crawford said.
"He is going to be a big-league shortstop," Legg said. "He should be an everyday big-league shortstop. There is going to be a lot of small roadblocks for him, hills to climb. It is the process you have to go through when you are that young of a player. He is at the beginning stages of it."
Crawford has some high-powered encouragement on his side to deal with the lows. His cousin is Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford, and he counts two mentors in Aaron Hicks of the Minnesota Twins and Travis d'Arnaud of the New York Mets, who are from his area of California. They all preach to him about the hills and valleys they encountered during their stints in the minors.
Also on his side is a high school teammate, righthander Shane Watson, who also happens to be in the Phillies farm system after graduating a year before Crawford.
"It was a great honor," Crawford said of being drafted by the Phillies. "A dream come true. My best friend Shane Watson got drafted in the first round the year before to the Phillies. To play in the same organization with him is really cool."
Aside from having a friend in the organization, Crawford always watched the Phillies intently growing up.
"It has always been one of my dreams to play major league baseball since growing up playing and watching guys like Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter, being a shortstop," Crawford said. "I wanted to be like them."
There is a real possibility that Crawford ends up replacing the player he modeled himself after, Rollins, at shortstop at Citizens Bank Park in the near future. Until then, he has to ride the ups and downs of the minor leagues.