June 6th, 2013

Tigers take Jonathon Crawford with top pick

The Tigers’ return to the first round of the First-Year Player Draft took them back to a familiar theme: They went for power pitching.

With the 20th overall selection Thursday night, the Tigers selected University of Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford, sticking with the organizational belief that a team can never have enough pitching. In Crawford’s case, they’re hoping they have their latest pitching prospect to follow in the footsteps of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly and since-traded Jacob Turner.

Crawford ranked 17th on MLB.com’s list of top 100 Draft prospects, and was among the more highly-followed college pitchers all spring after throwing a no-hitter for the Gators in the NCAA Tournament last year. With a mid-90s fastball, a solid two-seamer and a late-breaking slider, the 21-year-old has a power pitcher’s foundation.

“He has a power arm with a plus slider,” Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said in a release Thursday evening, “and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to add him to our organization.”

Chadd was among those who scouted the Tigers’ top first-round options, including Florida at the SEC tournament.

The key for Crawford to become the Tigers’ next pitching prospect is expected to be his ability to change speeds and round out his arsenal. Crawford was working on that this year with his changeup.

Crawford had mixed results this spring in his junior season at Florida, going 3-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 15 starts. He led the Gators with 86 2/3 innings, 37 walks and 69 strikeouts. He tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts against Austin Peay in the NCAA regional last week before ending up with a no-decision. He still earned a spot on the NCAA regional All-Tourney Team.

The season, plus the rise of other college arms, took its toll on Crawford’s draft prospects after once being considered a potential top-10 pick. The talent, however, is still there, and it still drew the Tigers’ attention.Crawford’s sophomore year was his breakout season, producing a 6-2 record and a 3.13 ERA, including a 2.56 ERA in Southeastern Conference play. He also made the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

In the NCAA regionals, Crawford had his shining moment, tossing a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. He faced one batter over the minimum as he helped the Tigers on their way to the College World Series for the second consecutive year.

For a kid who didn’t make the roster as a freshman on a Gators team that reached the championship round of the College World Series, it was a major step forward.

“He’s grown up a lot,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan told the Gainesville Sun earlier this year. “He’s very competitive. He lets his game do his talking. …

“He’s been through a lot of adversity here. He’s self-made. He’s earned everything he’s gotten. I’m very proud of what he’s been able to accomplish for us.”

Crawford is the Tigers’ first selection in the first round since 2010, when Detroit had a compensation pick near the end of the opening round and used it on now-top prospect Nick Castellanos.

The Tigers have two more selections tonight. They hold the 39th overall pick at the end of the first round as well as their second-round pick at the 58th overall spot.