Do the Phillies envision an infield of Cody Asche, J.P. Crawford, Chase Utley and Maikel Franco taking the field at some point during the 2016 season?
Baseball Prospectus has J.P. Crawford ranked at No. 36, while Baseball America has the shortstop at No. 23 and suggests that he could rise into the Top 10 next year. The Phillies raved about Crawford’s polish when they selected him at No. 16 last year, and given the 228 plate appearances he saw after he was drafted, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Crawford is ready to take over for Jimmy Rollins in 2016, mostly because the reports say he has the glove to hold down an everyday job as he adapts to big league pitching.
Crawford started the year at Class A Lakewood and hit .295/.398/.405 with three home runs and 14 steals in 227 at bats before earning a promotion to A+ Clearwater, where he has already hit two home runs in his first 15 games. The knock on Crawford is that the lacks the power/speed combo that scouts look for in elite prospects. But that could be a good thing for the Phillies, because that power comes at the expense of very good polish at the plate. In 60 games at Lakewood, he had as many walks as strikeouts (37). and he has a career .392 OBP in 128 minor league games. Besides, he is only 19 years old.
As for the Phillies’ other top position prospect, Baseball America has Maikel Franco ranked at No. 50, while Baseball Prospectus does not have him on its list. Franco has struggled to adapt to Triple-A pitching, but he has been on a tear for the last week-and-a-half, with four extra base hits and a .342 average in his last 40 plate appearances. He isn’t the first elite prospect to struggle in his first few months at Triple-A, and he wouldn’t be the the first to turn it around in the second half of the season. As it is now, he is hitting .223/.277/.347 with six home runs, 54 strikeouts and 23 walks in 323 at bats. A starting infield of Cody Asche (3B), J.P. Crawford (SS), Maikel Franco (1B) and Chase Utley (2B) is not out of the realm of possibility for sometime during the 2016 season, which could be part of the logic behind the Phillies belief that they do not to trade a player like Utley.
Of course, Utley will be 37 years old in 2017, and he is currently in the midst of a midseason fade that we've seen before, and which we detailed last year. One can argue that, by the time Franco and Crawford are ready, the Phillies would be better off with whatever young piece they could aquire for Utley while his value is still high than they would be having kept the second baseman with the hope that he would continue to perform through his 37-year-old season. There is no guarantee Franco or Crawford will be able to handle major league pitching. The more prospects an organization has, the better the odds that one or more of them will pan out.