JP Crawford, power hitter? Mariners shortstop shows more pop

On opening day in Minneapolis, the Mariners announced a five-year, $51 million deal for shortstop JP Crawford, who they say is just beginning to scratch the surface of the player he will become. .

The current version, however, is quite good.

Crawford is tied for fifth in the American League in WAR among position players (1.8) and, two years away from winning a Gold Glove, continues to be an above-average defenseman.

Coming off of his best offensive season — where he hit a game-high 169 hits — Crawford still found something else to improve on: his power.

Crawford has four home runs this season, which puts him well past the nine career-best homers he hit a year ago in 160 games. Power has never been an important part of Crawford’s game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be.

“With JP, he gets a lot of hits, and that’s not a bad thing,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He stays on the balls. It usually doesn’t pull or get stuck. He went to a shorter bat last year to find the barrel a bit. This year… he has improved with his barrel awareness.

Consider this: Crawford hit his fourth home run on April 22, in Game 22 of the Mariners season. He only homered four times on June 15 of last season, Seattle’s 68th game of the season.

The most homers in a professional season that Crawford has hit came in 2017 with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in Lehigh Valley (15). Could there be more pop on the way?

“I think he understands who he is,” Mariners batting coach Tony Arnerich said. “And he’s a lot like Ty (France) in that he’s found a plan that really works for him. When he has the ability to go to bat with that plan, and he knows he can play on pitches…if he catches the ball in front, it will go far.

There are a few factors at play here that could explain why Crawford has been able to go deeper this season. First, a year ago, he worked diligently with the Mariners’ longtime director of strength and conditioning, James Clifford, to ensure he would stay strong throughout the season and not wouldn’t wear out like he had before.

“The biggest change or adjustment I needed to make was getting into the weight room…not necessarily adding bulk, but getting stronger so my body could last a six month season. playing baseball,” Crawford said.

This spring, Crawford has been working closely with the team’s assistant coach, Taylor Bennett, to unlock some things in his bottom half.

“Taylor helped me find a routine for spring training; activate my hips, loosen them up a bit, and I think that helped my swing,” Crawford said.

Crawford has noticed a difference this season in the way his body moves, especially on his swing.

“As you catch the ball (with the bat), you catch the ball at the right time and throw it. That’s really it,” Crawford said. “You want to put yourself in a good account and maybe sell for a pitch. But you better make sure you don’t miss it. I think I did a good job of that.

The hard-hit Crawford rate (34.4%) is up from 30.6% a year ago. Even better, his sweet spot percentage (40.6) is also up from 34.3 in 2021. In general, his batted ball profile shows many improvements from a year ago.

While opposing teams often chased Crawford inside to try and tie him up, not worrying that he might light those balls, Crawford showed his ability to get inside those pitches, light them, and make damages.

“I just think he shoots more balls more consistently,” Servais said.

The Mariners could definitely use a long ball from Crawford or his teammates right now, especially after being shut out on Tuesday for the sixth time this season, the last setback being a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.

Hits of all kinds are cool with Crawford. But those who cross the fence, well, those just feel a little bit different.

“I mean, who wouldn’t want to hit home runs,” Crawford said with a smile. “There’s nothing better than that.”

(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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