J.P. Crawford wasn't far. Literally. Having suffered an oblique strain in late March, he was unable to play for the first month of the season and instead had to work out at the Phillies Spring Training complex while his fellow Phillies farmhands played nearby at Class A Advanced Clearwater's Bright House Field. Crawford was a spectator at every Threshers home game until Wednesday, when it was time to return to the field.
"It was unreal," he said of the missed time. "I wanted to be back so bad, and now that I am back, I want to make up for what I've missed."
One could call that mission accomplished.
Batting leadoff and starting at DH, the Phillies' top prospect went 2-for-3 with a homer, a walk, three RBIs and two runs scored to lead Clearwater to a 7-3 win over visiting Brevard County.
It didn't take long for the left-handed hitter to get back into the swing of things as he singled to right in his first at-bat off Manatees right-handed starter Jorge Ortega in the first inning. Two frames later, after having fouled off several pitches from Ortega, he connected on a fastball for a two-run homer tro right -- his first since long ball since he went deep twice on Aug. 24 with Clearwater last year. The shot broke a scoreless tie.
"I felt really good and was just really excited to be back," he said. "In that first inning, I was just trying to get a spark going, and once that happened I was set. I wanted to get some good results today, and I got them."
Crawford walked and scored in the fifth and reached again in the eighth when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, giving him his third RBI of the day, one short of his career high for the category.
Taken with the 16th pick in the 2013 Draft, the promising shortstop has received his biggest acolades for his defensive play, getting above-average grades for his arm and fielding tools from MLB.com this past offseason. The game's No. 22 overall prospect also has the skills to become a Major League asset on offense. He put up a .285/.375/.406 line with 11 homers, 23 doubles, 48 RBIs and 24 stolen bases last season between Clearwater and Class A Lakewood.
Before the oblique strain, the Phillies had hoped the 20-year-old would spend most of his summer at Double-A Reading. Although that might still be true, they've chosen to start him back in the Florida State League for now, where he's not only in a familiar environment but also seeing plenty of familiar faces as well.
"I was comfortable right away," he said. "A lot of my teammates are still here, and they made it feel like last year all over again, so that was a big help."
Clearwater left fielder Andrew Pullin went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk batting one spot behind Crawford in the Threshers lineup. Catcher and No. 13 Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp doubled, walked and plated two runs from the No. 3 spot.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.