Jimmy Rollins was 22 years old when he took over as the Philadelphia Phillies' starting shortstop in 2001. Will his heir apparent be ready at an even younger age?
J.P. Crawford was taken with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 Draft as Rollins' potential replacement, and the 19-year-old appears to be on the fast track to do just that.
Crawford, No. 84 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, was promoted to Class A Advanced Clearwater barely a year out of high school and will be one of the youngest players ever to play for the United States in the All-Star Futures Game.
Rollins, though, has just this season and next left on his contract, and it would be asking a lot for Crawford, despite his accelerated pace, to be ready by 2016. His 21st birthday falls just before Spring Training that year.
Crawford, like Rollins a California high school product, is hardly looking that far ahead. But discussion about what could be ahead for the Phillies' No. 3 prospect is sure to heighten with his Futures selection.
Still settling in with his new Florida State League team after playing in the Class A South Atlantic League All-Star Game, Crawford wasn't thinking about getting a much bigger showcase less than a month later.
"I was shocked," said Crawford of his selection. "It's a great honor, especially being one of the youngest people. It's a great achievement."
Crawford earned his way on. He hit .345 to win the batting title in the Gulf Coast League last year and then posted a .295 average, .398 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases over the first half in the South Atlantic League this season before being promoted to Clearwater.
All the while, Crawford has shown the range, hands and arm that made him the consensus choice as the best shortstop in the Draft a year ago.
Crawford's adjustment to the FSL seemingly took all of a couple games.
"There are a lot of older guys, and the pitching is a lot better," said Crawford, who received a bonus of $2.3 million from the Phillies to bypass a scholarship to the University of Southern California.
After going hitless in his first two games with Clearwater and striking out four times, he quickly got the upper hand. Crawford delivered a walk-off hit June 26 against Tampa and then homered in the next two games against Brevard County.
"You always want to do well and come through for a new team," he said.
Crawford's father, Larry, played football at Iowa State and was an All-Star defensive back in Canada, but his son gravitated to the diamond at an early age. Older sister Eliza, a softball player at Cal State Fullerton, gets some of the credit for that.
"I used to go to her games when I was 3 or 4 and enjoyed watching her play," he said. "That's what got me interested in baseball."
Then came participation in Major League Baseball's RBI program and a big boost from the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, not far from Crawford's home in Lakewood, Calif.
"I went over there ever since I was 13 and it really helped me learning from the ex-pros," he said. "They taught me the fundamentals and how to play the game right."
The Phillies saw plenty of Crawford while scouting pitcher Shane Watson, their top pick in 2012 Draft, at Lakewood High School. But the then-junior was well-known even prior to that.
When Crawford participates in the Futures Game at Target Field in Minneapolis on July 13, he will have already played in nearly a half dozen Major League ballparks thanks to showcases and other events.
Now Crawford is fast-tracking to the Majors for real.
Mr. Contact: Second baseman Breyvic Valera, the hardest player to strike out in the Florida State League, was promoted from Palm Beach to Double-A Springfield by the St. Louis Cardinals. Valera, 21, was third in the FSL with a .331 average and had fanned just 13 times in 323 plate appearances over 73 games. The switch-hitter from Venezuela had only 12 extra-base knocks among his league-best 98 hits, but his on-base percentage with Palm Beach was .385 thanks to 25 walks.
On the move: Center fielder Dalton Pompey, who led the Florida State League with 29 steals in 31 attempts, was moved up from Dunedin to Double-A New Hampshire by the Toronto Blue Jays. Pompey, 21, was sixth in the league with a .319 batting average and tied for fourth with an on-base percentage of .397. Toronto's No. 18 prospect had 24 extra-base hits, 35 walks and 49 runs scored in 70 games with Dunedin before being promoted.
Hit parade: Tampa center fielder Jake Cave followed a five-hit game at Clearwater on June 25 with a three-hit outing that included two doubles the next night against the Threshers. He hit .386 in the first 10 games of the second half, raising his overall average to .309. Cave, 21, had a .364 on-base percentage from his leadoff spot and had scored 42 runs in 77 games. The sixth-round pick in the 2011 Draft missed the 2012 season following knee surgery.