When Corey Knebel was traded to the Dodgers back in early December, it was announced the Brewers would get cash considerations or a PTBNL. Well Milwaukee got a PTBNL, and his name is Leo Crawford.
The soon-to-be 24-year old is a left-hander that tops out between 88-90 mph. While not a flame thrower, Crawford has been effective across multiple levels in the minor leagues. In 2019 in 21 starts, Crawford pitched to a 2.81 ERA. He covered 121.2 innings and struck out 134 hitters in that season.
His effectiveness comes from deception and the disruption of the hitter’s timing. Crawford’s potentially elite offering is the changeup.
Crawford gets compared to Brent Suter, but that is not really accurate. Suter doesn't get hitters out with velocity either, and he does use a changeup. However Suter is 6’4” and disrupts hitters with his torrid pace on the mound.
Crawford is really a different type of pitcher. Standing at an even 6 feet, he does not present the imposing presence that Suter does, nor does he have the long levers that get on top hitters. His process is about varying his delivery. He is also said to have a really good pick off move. Here is some more video to demonstrate how Crawford goes about his business.
He is definitely funky, and he will definitely frustrate hitters, especially hitters that rely heavily on timing to be effective. Crawford signed with the Dodgers out of Nicaragua in 2014. In an interview with David Stearns published in Baseball America, Tom Haudricourt quoted the Brewers’ President of Baseball Operations:
I think he’s must more confident in what he’s done, and he has learned to use his timing mechanisms probably to a little bit of a greater effect...His changeup has improved, which is probably his best offspeed offering. That has helped him, particularly against opposite-handed hitters.
Haudricourt went on to say that Stearns said the main objective is for him to log innings wherever he pitches in 2021, with the ability to adjust according to need.
Crawford has been pitching in the Nicaraguan Winter League, and he’s had some success so far culminating in a championship.
Congratulations to #Brewers LHP @LenardCrawford on his team winning the Nicaragua Winter League Championship Tuesday, rolling in Game Six, 16-3. Crawford was the winning pitcher in Game Five two days prior.— Jim Goulart (@Mass_Haas) January 20, 2021
It is difficult to find a lot about Leo Crawford. In this 2019 post by Brian Young at Prospects1500, he ranks the Dodgers top 50 prospects. Crawford was not included in the top 50, but he did get special mention at the end of the article.
We’re not specifically ranking him 51st as many could argue he might be in the Dodgers‘ Top 20 or 30. Let’s just say that he’s had a very good season between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, highlighted by his 9 inning, 3 hit shutout on July 9th at Lake Elsinore. On the season he’s maintaining a 10.0 K/9 and only 2.0 BB/9. With a solid 2.79 ERA in 24 games (20 GS), look for Crawford to compete for a Triple-A rotation spot in 2020, with a chance to reach Chavez Ravine at some point next year.
That is not a scouting report by any means, but it is indicative that there were those around the Dodgers organization that thought highly of him. David Stearns and the Brewers front office probably feels that same. Here is another scouting report that is not much of a scouting report but illustrates that there is a feeling that Crawford has potential. This report was from Shelly Verougstraete at Fangraphs.
In 91.1 innings in High A this year, he has a 2.96 ERA and 1.26 with 106 strikeouts. He was recently promoted to AA and had a perfect game going into the fifth inning in his debut. What is encouraging is Crawford’s swinging strikes have increased at every stop. It might be a bit early to claim him off waivers in your dynasty league, but he needs to be added to your watch list.
There just isn’t a lot out there about Leo Crawford. Yet there are these nuggets that suggest that people are clandestinely high on this guy. He just doesn’t fit into a profile to suggest MLB success. In that way, he is like Brent Suter. The things we know about Crawford are that he is crafty. He disrupts the timing of hitters by using variations in his delivery. He has a really nice changeup, and he seems to minimizes hard contact. At least that is the case in the minor leagues.
Leo Crawford may have to add a couple of ticks to his fastball and couple that with a plus change to get Major League hitters out. He might not make a meaningful contribution to the Brewers. However he has shown himself to be effective at the minor league level while also leading his team to a Nicaraguan Winter League championship. Maybe there is something there regarding spin rate and pitch sequencing that makes him effective? Unfortunately that information is not readily available to the public. Nonetheless David Stearns and Company obviously like him, and so did folks in the Dodgers’ organization. The reasons for that aren’t just because he is effective against AA hitters. There is something more, and Stearns recognizes it.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant