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40 in 25: J.P. Crawford

A former top prospect who struggled at first to match the hype is the perfect leader for these Mariners.

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Like many kids, I think my mom is the best. She loves us unconditionally, she supports us in all (okay, most) that we do, and she is selfless in the way that society unfairly demands of those we deem worthy of being crowned with the mantle of “good” motherhood.

A few months ago, she walked into the kitchen with a giddy look of guilty glee lighting up her face. “Guess what I did?” she asks me. It’s an expression I can instantly picture her making when she was younger and it’s one of those moments, happening with increasing frequency as I get older, when I see her as a person, not simply Mom.

“What did you do?” I oblige, mirroring her grin.

“I bid on a J.P. jersey!” she says, and then quickly adds, “ You know I wouldn’t do that normally, but it was for a good cause! I thought I would just help the bidding along, and it turns out I won.” She’s laughing and her cheeks are flushed, and I can’t remember the last time she bought something, beyond the odd historical fiction tome, that was just for her, just for fun.

“Don’t tell your dad,” she warns with a giggle, but there’s no trace of guilt on her face, only joy.

This is exactly the sort of thing J.P. Crawford’s play inspires - he’s dynamic, animated, and plays with a fluid confidence that those watching him can’t help but absorb.

2020 may have been his Gold Glove year, but 2021 should have been Crawford’s All-Star year. Last season he showed that 2020’s solid performance was no fluke, and cemented himself as Seattle’s lead-off hitter and starting shortstop by turning in one of the best seasons of any Mariner at the position not named Rodriguez. Perhaps the best part of Crawford’s 2021 performance was that it appears almost surprisingly sustainable: His defense remained exceptional, his K-rate hovered around 16% and he seemed to lean into his bloop strength. ZiPS and Steamer both predict that last season is generally replicable for Crawford this year, predicting 2.9 and 3.4 fWAR respectively.

Now that he’s proven himself on the diamond, it’s his off-field work this year that’s going to force him to really step up.

“One thing that we’ve seen is you evolve this season as a leader on this team. Are you ready to take on that role moving forward?” Angie Mentink asked in a post-game interview with Crawford after the final game of the 2021 season.

“I’m ready,” Crawford answered, voice steady after an emotional moment reflecting on Kyle Seager’s impact on the club. “I learned everything from Kyle. I’m ready to take that spot and be the leader on that team.”

In a clubhouse where some of baseball’s top prospects are either waiting in the wings or settling into the locker room, I can’t think of a better leader for this team than J.P. Crawford. As a top prospect in the Phillies’ system, he’s felt the pressure for greatness - and played under the heavy yoke of disappointment and failed expectations. In Seattle, he’s started over, opened himself up, bought in and ultimately thrived. In a story by Ryan Divish last year, Scott Servais recalled how during Crawford’s first spring training with the Mariners, he “spent early team meetings sitting in the back of the room, half paying attention as coaches went through various defensive situations.” Servais challenged Crawford and “can most often be found now in the front row for team meetings, taking notes and speaking up.”

And while this season presents a new opportunity for leadership within the Mariners clubhouse, it’s not a new role for Crawford. “This is the type of dude I am. I’ve always been a leader growing up and all my friends looked up to me growing up. And I feel like this year, it’s the same thing. I’m ready for that role and I’m ready for put the team on my back. And just, they know, if it’s 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., I’m going to answer my phone call for them. It doesn’t matter. And they know that. I’m going to be here for them.”

Over the holidays, Mom brought out the jersey to show us. She’d put it on over her typical jeans-slippers-sweater-turtleneck combo (can’t expose your neck to the elements!) and buttoned it to the top, shuffling as she walked because the fabric dipped down below her knees. My sister and I couldn’t contain our laughter, but Mom was undeterred. She just stood there beaming.

If it all goes right, the young’uns will steal the spotlight this year, but in Seattle, teetering on the precipice of what could be their most exciting season in recent memory, there’s room for more than one spotlight. And J.P. deserves his own.