The Rules
Rather than re-printing the BP Prospect Team Midseason Top 50 debates—much of which involves discussion of multiple players at the same time—we thought it would be interesting to call out some of the more interesting pairings among players in consideration for the #BPTop50 and allow an advocate for each to make his case for why that player should be ranked ahead of the other.

In each case, the BP Prospect Team member advocating on behalf of a prospect may or may not ultimately prefer that prospect, but in any event has agreed to argue that prospect’s case for purposes of this series. It’s a good reminder that the differences in value between players on these rankings is sometimes quite small, and in most cases a strong case can be made for ranking players in any number of combinations.

Nick Faleris serves as a quasi-moderator for the debate, introducing the players and leading a question-and-answer session to help tease out the arguments for and against each player.

Introducing Crawford and Anderson
Neither J.P. Crawford (SS, Phillies) nor Tim Anderson (SS, White Sox) was a Top 101 prospect entering the 2014 season. In fact, neither of the 2013 first rounders was able to show enough in his short pro debut to secure the top spot on his respective team’s Top 10 Prospects list (Phillies list here; White Sox list here). Strong spring trainings and early-season showings for each, however, have catapulted both into our Midseason Top 50 discussions.

Crawford entered pro ball as a prep product already displaying a high aptitude for the game, but carried with him questions about his overall physicality and the timetable on which he would be able to fully implement his skills at the pro ranks. Those questions have abated, as the former Southern Cal commit chewed through his first 60 full-season games with Low-A Lakewood, slashing .295/.398/.405 while posting a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio and providing solid up-the-middle glove work at the six spot. He earned a promotion to High-A Clearwater last week.

Anderson, on the other hand, didn’t begin his earnest focus on baseball until he was out of high school, splitting attention between the field and the hardwood as an Alabama prep star. Viewed as an upside play with a fair amount of refinement required, Anderson’s first 125-plus pro games have been encouraging, as he showed solid in Low-A Kannapolis last summer before making the jump to High-A Winston-Salem in 2014, where he has seen a slight regression in his on-base percentage but a large jump in his playable power. At publish, Anderson is sitting on a .301/.330/.475 slash line this season, and has lowered his strikeout rate slightly (22 percent, down from 26 percent last year). –Nick J. Faleris

The Case for J.P. Crawford
Tim Anderson might have been my favorite player to watch during Cactus League action this spring, and I think he has a chance to blossom into a Brandon Phillips-esque player. But I have reservations about his long-term defensive projections, and his skills are more of the crudités variety at this stage of the game, with a sizable gap between his present and future utility. On the other hand, J.P. Crawford is a legit left-side defender, with impact athleticism and a rare combination of present polish and projection, a future role 6, first-division ceiling that isn’t miles above his respectable floor.

When I look at Crawford, I see all the ingredients of a quality shortstop, from the softness and fluidity in the hands, to the first-step range, to the arm, to the confidence, to the hard to quantify feel that all true shortstops possess, even if their tool collection lacks a double-plus weapon that stands out. Crawford is a true shortstop, and he will remain a shortstop going forward, which puts him on a shelf few can legitimately occupy in the minors. The fact that he has a good feel for hitting in addition to his defensive chops only elevates his status in the prospect world, making him an easy top 50 player now with significant helium in his profile. –Jason Parks

The Case for Timmy Anderson
Growing up a Phillies fan, I was ecstatic to see them take J.P. Crawford last year, believing he would blossom into Jimmy Rollins’ eventual replacement. Crawford has all of the necessary traits to stay at the shortstop position and has progressed nicely through the minors, already earning a call-up to High-A in his first full season of pro ball. While there is little debate whether Crawford can stay at shortstop, there is plenty of debate about whether Tim Anderson can stay there. Anderson does not react off the bat as well as Crawford but I would put Anderson’s hands against many others. They're electric hands, always in sync, and even when he reacts late he has the quick, soft hands to make up for any mistake.

Anderson’s present utility with the bat is far from his future projection, but with high risk comes high reward. Anderson has a wide base setup at the plate with loose, easy hands, and he shows off plus bat speed. Anderson attacks the ball out in front and shows plenty of natural bat-to-ball skills for a player who just starting playing five years ago. He generates easy backspin with some natural lift and shows off plus power potential. Add in the fact that he is a double-plus runner and you have an offensive weapon. A future role 65 player from the second base or center field position is very valuable. — CJ Wittmann

NF: Witt, first question goes to you. It seems like the primary theme with regards to Anderson is "you carry a little more risk but you get the potential for a bigger reward." By Parks' account, Crawford is more of a high-floor profile who gives you solid grades across the board at a valuable position. With Crawford's promotion to the FSL, he and Anderson are now at the same level, with Crawford almost two years younger. Isn't there a pretty good case to be made for Crawford actually having a higher likelihood to see a larger growth in his game from present skill set to future realization?

CW: I can see a case for Crawford being a higher-ceiling guy since he is younger and they are at the same level but Crawford was a known commodity as a polished high school shortstop. Assuming he adjusted well, his floor was always higher than Anderson’s. Anderson just started playing baseball his junior year of high school so he is a different kind of raw and he hasn’t had the exposure that Crawford has. The possibilities at the plate are endless if you combine his speed (a real weapon) and the fact he shows natural skills at the plate with plus raw power. Crawford, meanwhile, features more of a conservative contact-oriented swing, and raw power that will play well below average. I like Tim Anderson’s hit utility, power and run all to play higher than Crawford’s.

NF: Parks, you've been vocal about the potential impact a "late start" could have on the ability of a prospect to fully develop his hit tool, from a neurological standpoint. Is that in and of itself enough to make the case that Crawford is more likely to reach his ceiling offensively, even if that ceiling as a fair bit lower than Anderson's? Doesn't Anderson's greater upside largely negate the advantage Crawford has on Anderson as far as experience and hit tool refinement are concerned? A 50 percent realization for Anderson could be more valuable than a 70 percent realization for Crawford.

JP: First of all, I fundamentally disagree that Crawford’s ceiling is a fair bit lower than Anderson’s. From an offensive standpoint, I would support that Anderson shows more potential with the stick, with superior bat speed and more raw pop to dream on. Let’s say he could be a plus/plus type at the plate, a .285-plus hitter with 20-plus home run potential, big time projections for an up-the-middle player. But his offensive profile also comes with more risk, and based on my experience watching the player, there are some red flags with the approach; specifically, his pitch recognition skills and subsequent susceptibility to quality off-speed stuff.

The bat speed is quite impressive, but the balance can be erratic, as he often loses his mechanical foundation when his fastball guess is off and he is forced to make a quick adjustment. He has some feel for hitting and bat control, and I think you can credit his exceptional hand/eye coordination for that. But I don’t see a hitter so gifted that his value balloons to the point where a 50 percent realization would be considered a better outcome than a 70 percent realization from Crawford, a player who will play shortstop at the highest level, with a solid-average-to-plus hit tool and an advanced approach that will keep him in hitter-friendly opportunities.

JP to CW: You are running a team and you have to pick one of Crawford/Anderson, are you taking Anderson? Do you honestly feel the upside is high enough to warrant the risk and to pass on a no-shit shortstop?

CW: This is a great question and I don't think there is really a wrong answer. An up-the-middle player with .280-plus/20 home run upside while being a double-plus runner is really, really valuable but isn't franchise altering. But a definite shortstop with a plus run and solid-average hit tool isn't a franchise-altering player either. I think it's more of a "which do you prefer" type question. For me, I'll take the guy who has more risk, but higher reward. I love betting on upside guys who could potentially impact the game at the plate big time.

I agree, J.P. Crawford is a no-shit shortstop and could potentially play the premium defensive position for many years at the highest level while having a solid-average hit tool. But compared to the rest of the league, how many shortstops have a plus glove and can hit a bit compared to a player who will play second or center and hit for higher average, more power and be more of weapon on the basepaths? I thought about it thoroughly but I would take Anderson because of the upside at the plate and I'd find a shortstop who could really pick it regardless of the offensive output.

NF: Last question to you, Parks. You concede Anderson's offensive upside surpasses Crawford's, and note Crawford's ability to play a solid shortstop as a significant component of his aggregate value. Name one characteristic of Anderson's game that, if he is able to surpass your expectations from a developmental standpoint, would lead you to pick him over Crawford (e.g. defense plays to elite at second base or center field; reaches true plus playable power).

JP: From a developmental standpoint, I think we can say that Anderson is playing catch-up, as his foundation is built on his general athleticism rather than his rich experiences on a baseball field. But should he start to accelerate—developmentally speaking—and start showing quick adjustment ability at the plate, consistency with his mechanical setup, refinement in the approach, and refinement in the field and on base, I know I would gladly say that Anderson is the superior prospect because I do love the offensive potential and do think he could develop into a very good second baseman down the line.

I think you can argue that given his multi-sport background and lack of focus on baseball, Anderson has already made tremendous strides in his developmental journey, and the production this season speaks to that as he has improved in each month. But my eyes still have the red flags on the pole, and the weaknesses I've already mentioned in his skill set could step into a brighter spotlight and get exposed when he reaches the Double-A level. If he survives that cauldron and continues to accelerate—developmentally speaking—we are looking at a very high-end, impact player in the making. Until then, his approach and rawness in the field give me enough hesitation to push for Crawford ahead of him on the updated mid-season list.

It’s an interesting question: Do you take the offensive upside with greater developmental risk or the higher probability talent at a premium defensive position with a solid stick in his own right? Both are highly talented up-the-middle players who have yet to really hit their first developmental bumps in the road, and with each selected back-to-back in the 2013 draft (Crawford at 16th overall and Anderson at 17th overall) this should be an interesting pairing to follow throughout their respective careers.

We will keep the convo going in the comments section and hope you will join in with questions and critiques of your own. Are Crawford and Anderson both Top 50 prospects in your opinion? Who should rank higher on the Midseason Top 50?

Check in tomorrow for our next entry in the Midseason Top 50 Debate Series, and of course make sure you’re here when the Midseason Top 50 is released next week.

Thank you for reading

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Great piece! I can't help recalling Keith Law's projection of Anderson where he said he could settle in as a "slap hitter/speed guy who plays above average defense at short." Coupled with your offensive projections for Anderson, I would have to take him over Crawford if he can stick at short.
I definitely don't see Anderson as a slap/speed hitter; he can really drive the baseball with power. Big explosion off of his stick.
If Anderson has an outside chance of sticking at shortstop, doesn't that alter the equation?
He does have a chance of sticking at SS. I think he eventually ends up at 2B, but he has the raw tools to make it work. He's just raw.

I just think Crawford has the safer skill-set at the position, and I don't think the offensive upside is crazy enough to stand above a no-doubt shortstop like Crawford, at least as far as rankings are concerned.
If you're the Pirates GM, having seen Dilson Hererra and Alen Hanson and maybe even Jordy Mercer come through the system without ever developing a legit shortstop, you might lean towards Crawford. Shortstops can be hard to find.

Great piece.
This is the line that ends this debate for me:

"Crawford is a true shortstop, and he will remain a shortstop going forward, which puts him on a shelf few can legitimately occupy in the minors."

Shortstops are a premium, and when you have one, you value them like gold.
Unless you already have one, in which case having a highly competent 2B or CF on both sides of the ball is much more valuable. It's not like there's no defensive value outside of shortstop, and that offense is irrelevant. Otherwise Jose Iglesias would be the most valuable player in the world.
No-shit shortstop. Heh.
Is there a way to delete comments? I'm embarrassed by my behavior.
How much of seeing previous prospects like Bubba Starling alter your guys preception/projection on a player like Anderson?
Great article -- MORE, PLEASE!