What 2022 top pick Crawford must do to join Giants bullpen this season

What 2022 top pick Crawford must do to join Giants bullpen this season originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Reggie Crawford goes through Triple-A for the first time, the most interesting number isn't his ERA or strikeout total. It's not even the eye-popping fastball velocity. Right now, the number to watch is how many days pass between Crawford's relief appearances.

Since joining Double-A Richmond in mid-April, Crawford has thrown every four days no matter the score. He's on the same schedule in Triple-A, but at some point this summer, the Giants will start shortening his rest periods. When Crawford starts pitching every other day, or three times a week, he might become an option for the big league bullpen.

It's an interesting development plan, but that's always been the case with Crawford, who was drafted as a two-way player recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Giants were extremely careful with Crawford's arm last summer, in part because he didn't throw much in college, either, and that remains the case even after Crawford gave up hitting over the offseason.

Crawford threw 19 innings last year and just 9 2/3 in Double-A before a promotion to Sacramento, where he has pitched 3 1/3 innings in three relief outings. Overall, Crawford is at just 32 innings in the minor leagues, but the Giants already are considering him as a bullpen option in the second half. That's where the schedule comes in. If Crawford can show that he can handle the physical toll of being a regular reliever, he could make his MLB debut later this season.

"He has only got so many innings this year, realistically, even though long-term we still think there's starter potential," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said last week. "I think it's possible he pitches for us this year at the big league level. For him to be able to do that, we need him to be able to come back -- forget about a back-to-back, but even on just one day of rest. He has never done those things. Rather than stretch him out, I think our schedule and our plan is going to be more to get him pitching in more typical intervals for a reliever and see if he can handle it."

The Giants have Crawford on an innings limit, which is part of why they're not letting him start games. On Thursday, he threw 19 pitches in a scoreless eighth inning in the River Cats' win.

The reason the Giants are thinking so aggressively is because of what the 23-year-old does when he is on the mound every four days. He struck out 19 in those 9 2/3 innings in Double-A, and Giants officials simply felt he wasn't being sufficiently challenged. Whenever he wanted to, Crawford could just reach back for 99 mph and blow hitters away, so he was quickly promoted.

On Thursday, he reached 99.8 mph and averaged 98.6. He also mixed in six sliders and a changeup while allowing a single, walking one and striking out one.

The Giants drafted Crawford as a two-way player who likely would become a left-handed starter, and it now seems he'll reach the big leagues as a power reliever. They hope to eventually transition him back to starting, and Chicago's Garrett Crochet is a pretty good example of how that can be done at the big league level with hard-throwing lefties.

That's the long-term goal. But for 2024, Crawford still has guardrails, which could lead to him pitching in the big leagues just two years after he was drafted.

Download and follow the Giants Talk Podcast