Playing with the Big Boys
Everybody loves a feel-good story. The Ducks had many of them last year, featuring both veterans and youngsters in the Atlantic League. Earlier this offseason, we showcased the efforts of 23-year-old Tommy Organ, who came to the Atlantic League from the Frontier League in 2014 and found immediate success with the Ducks. He was not alone though, as Evan Crawford, who played with Organ in River City and Long Island this past year, also entered the spotlight.
After coming to the Ducks in the same trade as Organ, the 26-year-old Crawford joined an outfield that included All-Stars such as Adam Bailey and Lew Ford, as well as Fehlandt Lentini, who was in the midst of an outstanding year at the plate. Although his playing time was understandably limited, Crawford took advantage of every opportunity presented to him.
“I really just had a good feel in the batter’s box,” said Crawford, who signed with the Ducks for 2015 a week ago. “Some of the veterans helped me along the way, but I was just really relaxed in the box. I wasn’t an every day starter so when I got in the lineup, I didn’t really have any pressure to do too much. I was just going in and trying to do my thing the best I could.”
The results were a significant turnaround from his production earlier in the year with River City. He played 57 games with the Rascals and compiled a .238 batting average as well as a .320 on-base percentage. In 15 games with the Ducks, he hit .378 and posted a .429 on-base percentage. The sample size may have been small, but the numbers didn’t lie. Crawford caught fire in his new environment, both at the plate and on the basepaths. As quickly has he reached first on a single, the St. Louis native was off stealing second base. He swiped seven bags in 15 games, compared to 11 in 57 with River City, and did not get caught a single time with the Ducks. Crawford has perfected the art of stealing bases, having been successful on nearly 82% of his career attempts.
“My speed is probably one of the biggest aspects of my game,” he noted. “When I get on base, I want the pitcher to be thinking about me to make it easier for whoever is hitting. Speed is a big part of stealing bases, but once you know you can steal, it’s all about not worrying if you end up getting thrown out. KB just gave me the green light to go whenever I wanted to.”
Despite his impressive start, the Ducks would end up losing Crawford for the final three weeks of the season. The former ballplayer at Indiana University was originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2009 following his junior year of college. After receiving the opportunity to play professional baseball, Crawford put school on hold to try and achieve his Major League aspirations. Five years later, the Legal Studies major decided it was time to head back to Indiana and finish what he started.
“That was one of the most important things I wanted to do because I never really had a baseball season where I didn’t have school in the back of my mind,” he recalled. “Now that it’s done, it’s just 100% about going out there and playing.”
Putting baseball on hold to finish a college education is a hard enough decision for someone who lives and breathes the sport. Doing so while you’re swinging a hot bat and playing your best is even more difficult.
“It was definitely tough,” Crawford said. “It was something I had to weigh my options on because I was new to the team, and leaving wouldn’t be great if I wanted to eventually come back. It was a tough decision, but I just felt at the time it was something that, for me personally, I just had to get done.”
Now that school is over with, Crawford’s focus has shifted towards the upcoming season and the chance to prove that he can be a mainstay in the Ducks lineup and in the Atlantic League. Even with his success last year, he wasn’t sure whether or not this opportunity would come to fruition. Now that it has, Crawford is teeming with joy.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he asserted. “I loved the Atlantic League and loved it on Long Island last year. I’m just excited to get out there and get back to work so we can win a championship this year.”
He continued to say, “[Ducks President/GM] Mike [Pfaff] and I had a good conversation. He said that he liked everything that he saw and that he would be happy to have me back. It just made me want to get right back to work.”
For a younger player in the Frontier League, Crawford rarely had the chance to gain knowledge and experience from those around him. Most of his teammates were of similar age, and the coaching staff did not have the same credentials as those in other leagues. Upon moving to the Atlantic League, Crawford was surrounded by a host of veteran players who have either played in the Major Leagues or been very close, both on the diamond and on the coaching staff. Being in that environment is what he loved the most.
“It was a very different feel because everybody was helping each other out a lot,” he remembered. “When you got back to the dugout, you talked about everything. You spoke about at-bats and what you’re seeing, and the veterans let you know how to adjust. I got a lot out of it.”
Although he spoke with many veterans during his stay in 2014, there was one who really took Crawford under his wing. Thankfully for the speedy outfielder, that same guy is also rejoining him on the roster this season.
“To be honest, the guy who probably helped me out the most was Lew Ford,” Crawford noted. “We got in the cage one day, and he was telling me something about my [step before I swing]. He told me to get my foot down a little earlier. Once I started doing that, I got in a nice rhythm with it and started hitting pretty well. I was definitely going to go with what the ‘big guy’ said.”
That little piece of advice certainly paid off in a big way this past season. If he continues to have that same success, the sky’s the limit for the former Hoosier.
Posted on March 13, 2015, in Player Signings and tagged 2014, 2015, Atlantic League, Evan Crawford, Indiana University, Lew Ford, Long Island Ducks, River City Rascals, San Francisco Giants. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.