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Crawford and Phillies' top prospects show off their skills in Spring Breakout game

Over the next two weeks leading up to Phillies Opening Day on March 28, we’re taking a daily look at the biggest questions and storylines surrounding the team in 2024. Today, it’s prospects to monitor.

It took all of one pitch Saturday afternoon for Justin Crawford to show off a piece of the skill set that makes him such an appealing prospect.

The Phillies’ 2022 first-round pick led off in their inaugural Spring Breakout game with a soft groundball up the third-base line, a makeable play that drew a wide throw because of his speed. Within a few pitches, he had already stolen second base and scored on a single to left field by third baseman Aidan Miller.

Miller and Crawford were the Phillies’ last two first-round picks and are their No. 3 and 4-ranked prospects, respectively, by MLB.com. Teams were paired up this week in matchups of their top prospects. The Phillies drew Detroit’s in their first-ever Spring Breakout game and lost, 5-1.

Crawford added another single in the third inning, walked in the sixth and flied out to left in the eighth. He hit .332 and stole 47 bases at Single A in 2023, his first full year as a pro.

“As fast as Crawford is — he stole 47 bases in 2023 — he might even have another gear, with that added strength leading to better body control,” a piece of MLB.com’s scouting report reads. “That will help him on the basepaths and in center field, where he should easily be a plus defender.”

Crawford is 20 years old and Miller is 19. Miller will likely spend the early part of the season at Single A. He hit .303 with a .425 OBP in 20 games split between Rookie ball and Single A last summer.

Mick Abel, the top-ranked healthy prospect in the organization, started on the mound. The first hitter he faced was Tigers top prospect Max Clark, who swung through two 96 mph fastballs and flied out to left. Abel sat 95-96 in the first inning and induced two flyouts before leaving an 89 mph sinker over the middle of the plate, which Jace Jung deposited into the right-field seats.

Abel was greeted in the second inning by a double but rebounded by striking out the side, ending the inning with a curveball that missed the bat of Hao-Yu Lee. The offensive-minded Taiwanese second baseman probably would have been participating in this game for the Phillies if he wasn’t traded at last year’s deadline for Michael Lorenzen.

Abel was sent to minor-league camp on Thursday. He appeared in two spring training games with the Phillies and struck out four (including Juan Soto) over 2⅔ perfect innings. He looked more poised and confident than he did a year ago, which was his first taste of big-league camp, and the Phillies are looking at him as someone who could help later in the summer if his development continues at Triple A.

“Every time I see him, it seems like he’s getting better and growing up, maturing and becoming a man,” manager Rob Thomson said Thursday. “He’s poised, he knows how to go about his business and his stuff is really, really good. Can he help us this year? Possibly. But for the future, he’s a guy.

“We’ve got to build his innings. … We’re not afraid to put guys on the 40-man (roster) as long as you’re performing and he’s getting to the point now where he’s mature enough to be able to handle that type of situation.”

Abel threw 31 pitches in his two innings, 23 for strikes. Location is a big deal for him after walking 65 in 113⅓ innings last season. He was relieved by hard-throwing Michael Mercado, the only player in the game on the Phillies’ 40-man roster.

Griff McGarry, another of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, struck out the side in the fifth inning but was also taken deep by Jung. The 24-year-old has struck out 13.3 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career but control issues have shifted him to a relief role to open 2024. If he can harness all that power in his right arm in shorter bursts while limiting the bad counts and walks, he could make himself a viable bullpen piece for the Phillies in the near future.

This was the Phils’ starting lineup for the game:

  1. Justin Crawford, CF

  2. Bryan Rincon, SS

  3. Aidan Miller, 3B

  4. Gabriel Rincones Jr., RF

  5. Eduardo Tait, C

  6. Tjayy Walton, LF

  7. Carlos De La Cruz, 1B

  8. Caleb Ricketts, C

  9. Starlyn Caba, 2B

Caba, 18, was signed for $3 million in 2023 and is ranked as the Phillies’ No. 5 prospect. They are also high on Tait, a 17-year-old, left-handed-hitting catcher from Panama who has a chance to contribute offensively and defensively someday. He’s No. 9 on their prospects list after signing for just $90,000 last January.