CLEARWATER, Fla. — J.P. Crawford boarded a flight on Tuesday for his fifth spring training. He had spent the last two Februarys in major-league camp like he was on a field trip, knowing he was just experiencing the big-leagues for a few weeks before being whisked back to the minors.
But when that plane landed this year, it was different. Crawford arrived at spring training with a job in the majors as he became the Phillies shortstop in December when Freddy Galvis was traded. Crawford was the team's top prospect as he climbed through the minor leagues. It seemed to be only a matter of time until the job was his.
"I just thought to myself that I finally have a chance to start my career and be a part of this team from the get go," Crawford said. "Hopefully, I can make an impact on opening day."
Crawford, manager Gabe Kapler said, arrived to spring training "quiet and focused." He's one of the key pieces to the team's rebuilding process and his debut in the majors last September seemed to send the signal that the rebuild was nearing a completion. The Phillies lineup could include four players who were top prospects a season ago. Crawford has long been the face of that crowd.
"I want to say that more than 50 percent of the guys here have played together so we're all comfortable with each other," Crawford said. "We're trying to make the new guys in here feel welcomed and we want the vibe in here to be good and close.
The Phillies aim to build a lineup of hitters that "control the strike zone" and Crawford fits that mold. He almost evened his walks and strikeouts at double A and triple A, walking 200 times and striking out 222 times in 1,297 at-bats. He had a .385 on-base percentage in his final 61 games at triple A as he pushed his way to the majors. And he started to display a power stroke.
Crawford hit 13 home runs in the final two months at triple A, equaling the amount he had hit over the last two seasons. The ability to hit for power matched with his proven knack to get on base could make Crawford the key piece of the lineup the Phillies have hoped he would become.
"The power is there," Kapler said. "One of the things we noticed in his first batting practice session was his ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark to the opposite field, which I think opened up a lot of eyes. I think there's power in there and yes I think he can hit for more power."
Crawford was working out in California in December when his personal trainer saw an alert on his phone that Galvis had been traded. Crawford has his chance in the majors and his flight to Clearwater was two months away.
"You have to come here to work," Crawford said. "The mind-set in here that we're going to compete to win the East. That's everyone's mind-set. I think we have the talent to do it. We have a new coaching staff and a bunch of good arms. We're looking really good. I'm excited to see what happens."