Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Shortstop Prospect Argument: Crawford or Adrianza?

With Miguel Tejada most likely a one-year rental at the most, the big concern for the Giants right now seems to be the future of their shortstop position. In the minors, there are two prospects that have gained a lot of noise the past few years: Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza. Both prospects offer significant upside with their gloves and are probably Major League ready defenders, but there have been some questions with the bat, which is probably why Tejada was signed to a one-year deal when Juan Uribe left town for a three-year contract from the Dodgers. That being said, this year is a critical season for the both of them, as they may be thrust into the starting mix next year should the Giants not acquire any big name players in the next couple of months (mainly Jose Reyes, whom I'm not a fan of because he's going to be a free agent and his history of injury problems).

So, who is the better prospect? Who has more of a future with the Giants? And who has a better shot at the starting position in the next couple of years? Let's take a look at both guys.

The Case for Crawford

Offensively, at this point, it's not question that Crawford is the superior option in comparison to Adrianza. A 4th round draft pick out of UCLA in 2008, Crawford wasn't known for hitting much power in his tenure with the Bruins. However, in a 25-game stint with the San Jose Giants in 2009 (his first full season in professional ball), Crawford went on a tear, as he hit six home runs, drove in 17 RBI, and posted a batting average of .371 and OPS of 1.045 in 119 plate appearances. Impressed by the gaudy numbers in the California League, many people figured that Crawford was a sleeper of sorts, and that he was an offensive shortstop that was a far cry from light-hitting shortstop prospects such as Brian Bocock.

However, his season in the Cal League was far from perfect. He struck out 32 times and walked only 10 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 0.31. Furthermore, there was some consensus that Crawford was benefiting from the hitter friendly environments of the Cal League, as evidenced by his .493 BABIP. When Crawford made the transition to Double-A Connecticut later that season, he proved to be more mortal, as he hit only .258 with an OPS of .659. Despite more plate appearances in the Eastern League (he had 423 plate appearances0, his home run total dipped to four and he continued to swing and miss and show questionable plate discipline with the Defenders as he struck out 100 times and posted a BB/K ratio of 0.20. Of course, he was only 22, and the Eastern League (Connecticut especially) is known to sap hitters' power, so some kind of regression in his slugging numbers was to be expected. That being said, the worries that Crawford's sketchy strike zone recognition would be a problem as he climbed up the Giants system was fully evident in his Double-A stint in 2009.

In his second season in the Eastern League (this time in Richmond), Crawford struggled through injury and ineffectiveness at the plate. His batting average was worse this time around (.241) in 79 games and 342 plate appearances with the Flying Squirrels, and he still struck out in bunches (26.5 percent). However, there were some positive signs in his second go-around in the EL. He showed more power (he hit seven home runs and his ISO jumped up to .134; his ISO was .107 the previous year in Double-A) and his plate approach improved, as his walk rate climbed up to 11.4 (a career high) and his BB/K ratio improved to 0.51 (another career high). The contact rate was still a bit sub-par (0.74), but until he broke his hand in July, many thought Crawford was making the necessary developments in 2010 to earn a shot at the starting Giants shortstop position in 2011 or 2012 at the latest.

This year, Marc Hulet of Fangraphs ranked Crawford as the ninth best prospect in the Giants organization. He had this to say about him in his January writeup:

"Crawford had a reputation as a good fielding shortstop with a weak bat in college. His profile changed a bit when he got off to a strong start in high-A ball in ‘09. His bat wilted with a promotion to double-A. Back at the same level in 2010, Crawford struggled offensively once again and produced a triple-slash line of .241/.337/.375 in 342 plate appearances. Strikeouts are one of his biggest weaknesses, posting a strikeout rate of 26.5 K%...He has a nice quiet stance but could stand to use his legs more. Crawford also pulls his head off the pitchers at times. Despite his limitations, his work at shortstop could earn him a regular gig at the MLB level but his ceiling could be that of Adam Everett or perhaps J.J. Hardy with less power."

Crawford started the year on the disabled list, and has spent a short stint in San Jose for Rehab. This is pretty much expected since a.) he didn't go through much Spring Training and b.) you want to make sure he's totally healthy, and it's better to figure that out at a lower level where he won't get his confidence shot. So far, if anything, he's been gaining confidence in this Cal League rehab stint, as he is hitting .296 with an .897 OPS and two home runs and 12 RBI. It's only a matter of time really before he earns that promotion to Fresno, where he was expected to start the year prior to landing on the disabled list.

In terms of comparing him to Adrianza, Crawford certainly is more Major League ready. Adrianza hasn't played over High-A at any point in his career, while Crawford has already had two stints in the Eastern League. While Crawford's upside defensively is not as high as Adrianza's, there's no question that he is more than capable of handling the position (he has a career fielding percentage of .974 and a RF/G of 4.85 in the minors). The only question is how Crawford's hitting approach will hold up in the Majors. There is some power upside (though it certainly comes in streaks), and I think he'll be able to draw walks at a decent rate, but he whiffs a lot, and his power or walks may not be strong enough to make up for the amount of strikeouts he could have in a full year of Major League ball.

Crawford may be the best solution in the short term, and it would be nice to give him a shot sometime this year, just so the Giants know what they have on their hands. Of course, it is important to see how Crawford transitions to the PCL. If he can hit well there (and I expect him too considering the PCL is a hitter's league), then I think it wouldn't be out of the question to see a Crawford callup sometime in late July or August.

The Case for Adrianza

The big problem with Adrianza is not his defense or his tools. Scouts love his range and fielding ability, as some tout him as having "Gold Glove" potential. He is that good and that spectacular in the field, though he does have a tendency to misplay the routine balls from time to time (as evidenced by his career .958 fielding percentage in the minors). Here is what Mike Newman of "Scouting the Sally" said in a game report about Adrianza a couple of seasons ago:

"Adrianza’s lapse of concentration in booting a routine ground ball overshadowed an otherwise impressive defensive performance. On other chances, Adrianza showed above average range, solid hands, footwork, and impressive arm strength. Of shortstops I’ve seen this season, he and Red Sox prospect Oscar Tejeda were the two best defenders hands down. However, all of Adrianza’s value is currently tied to his staying at shortstop which adds quite a bit of risk to his prospect status."

Additionally, he has some decent speed on the basepaths, as he has stolen 68 bases in his minor league career, including 33 last year in San Jose (in comparison, Crawford has only stolen 17 total in his career).

Defensive tools and base stealing aside, the bat is just a big question mark in Adrianza's future. He has never hit above .258 in any full stint (I didn't count any stint in 2008 as a full stint, since he didn't play more than 15 games at any level that year, though he did show some promise in a 2 game stint in Fresno), and he has a career OPS of .663. Adrianza pretty much is a slap hitter, who hits a lot of groundballs and not with much power. That's fine if he's doing that at the Majors and getting on base, but considering he's doing this against Single-A pitching, well...it doesn't bode well for future projection offensively.

Adrianza is more disciplined at the plate than Crawford. Unlike the UCLA product, strikeouts are not an issue with Venezuelan prospect. In 2009 in the Sally and 2010 in the Cal League, he posted strikeout percentages of 17 and 19.6 percent, respectively, which are both more tolerable numbers than Crawford's rates. Furthermore, in San Jose last year, Adrianza posted a BB/K ratio of 0.54. When you compare it to Crawford's rate in San Jose in 2009 (0.31), you would think Adrianza's plate approach and understanding of the strike zone would fare better and benefit him more than Crawford as he transitions up the Giants system.

Still though, Adrianza struggles to hit for high average, and that is always is a concern if you don't have the power to back that up. The silver lining is that scouts have noticed that he has a short compact stroke, and he has always made contact well in the minors (he has never had a contact rate below 80 percent). At the same time though, he just doesn't hit extra base hits. While his frame doesn't suggest a lot of home runs (he's six-foot, one-inch tall, 155 pounds), you would still think he'd be able to stretch a lot of singles into doubles considering his speed and athleticism. That hasn't been the case, as he had just an ISO of .092 last year and .070 the previous year in the Sally.

He is still relatively young (21 years old), but he hasn't advanced as quickly in the system as Giants fans have hoped, mainly because his bat didn't improve significantly in the jump from the pitcher-friendly Sally to the hitter-friendly Cal League. Baseball America likes Adrianza more, as they rank him the fifth-best prospect in the Giants system going into 2011 (Crawford is ranked sixth), but Gordon of the MLBA ranked Crawford (9th best Giants prospect) ahead of Adrianza (12th) in their team rankings (though Gordon rated the both of them 8D prospects).

While he may not be as close to Major League-ready as Crawford, and doesn't offer the power ceiling either, Adrianza is a more disciplined hitter who has significant defensive upside and some growing potential because he has been playing up for his age most of his career. I'm a bigger fan of Adrianza personally, mostly because of his plate discipline, glove and athleticism. I think in a couple of years, he really could develop into a special shortstop, though he certainly is more high-risk for the Giants in comparison. As for now though, it's neck and neck, and I would be perfectly content if Crawford can earn and hold the starting job in 2012.


  1. Very nice job looking at both players pluses and minuses!

    I would also note that Adrianza's age, or relatively youth, makes his accomplishments all the better for his long-term future as a major leaguer, whether starter or bench. He was able to battle players much older and experienced than he was and still handle the pitches enough to not strike out that often, and while his batting line was low, that should change as he catches up physically to the competition, whether minors or majors. I feel pretty good about him as a prospect.

  2. Thanks as always OGC!

    I agree with you about Adrianza. I think his youth is definitely a plus in his favor, as you're right, he's playing up. Even if he debuts later in the year by his birthday (he'll be 22 in August), he'll still be playing with guys who are 24 years old on average. The fact that he isn't overwhelmed by the pitching so far (his BB/K ratios have always been solid) is a good sign of his ability as a prospect. The only worry I have is the injuries, as starting on the DL set him back, as he was expected to start the year in Double-A prior to the injury.

    I think Adrianza's plate approach, ceiling and defense make him a better candidate than Crawford over the grand scheme of thing. As note before though, I think Crawford has the chances to make the majors sooner, which could affect Adrianza's status with the Giants. He was almost traded for Aardsma last year, but I think an injury to Crawford made the Giants balk. If Crawford excels or holds his own in the Majors, I think Adrianza could be dished. If not, Adrianza will be leaned on more than ever. I for one hope they don't trade him. He's got a lot of tools and talent.