Crawford confident he can step up offensively
Giants shortstop hopes strong start to last year can be sustained all season
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford entered the big leagues midway through the 2011 season polished defensively but a bit of an unknown quantity offensively, and his first hit in the Majors didn't exactly give an accurate first impression of what was to come, as spectacular as it might have been.
As he enters his third full season in the Majors, that grand slam in Milwaukee to start his Major League hitting career is a distant, albeit cherished, memory.
Since then, the Giants shortstop struggled at the plate through the remainder of his rookie season and posted back-to-back full seasons with .248 batting averages and other similarly pedestrian stats -- numbers Crawford believes are as much indicative of the hitting potential he has as that grand start to his career.
So Crawford came to camp this spring with the goal in mind to get off to a good start at the plate and stay there, because he knows from last year he can do the first part.
"I think I definitely improved as a hitter last year, even though I had the same average at the end," said Crawford, 27. "I developed into a lot better hitter, and I think the first few months of last year kind of proved that. I'd like to get back to where I was the first few months last year and carry that into the last three months of the season this time."
Of course, it's hard to top the way he started off his career at the plate. He became only the sixth player to hit a grand slam in his first Major League game.
"I was on pace to break a record," Crawford says with a smile, noting that he hit one more in 2012.
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, tongue planted in cheek, of Crawford's grand introduction: "Yeah, then he stopped. Come on. All I wanted was 15 a year. I don't get it why he didn't enjoy that and hit more of them."
Grand slams and all kidding aside, Bochy and the Giants would like to see Crawford take the next step offensively in 2014, a step they know he can because they saw what he could do at the outset of last season.
Before sustaining sprains of the index and middle fingers on his right hand while sliding June 18, Crawford was batting .288 with five homers and 28 RBIs; after that, he batted .211 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 80 games, continuing to struggle against left-handed pitching, batting .199 for the season against them.
That obviously left room for improvement heading into 2014, but also left the impression that he has it in him to do bigger and better things with the bat.
"Offensively, he just needs to be consistent over the course of a year," Bochy said. "He's shown in the early go last year that he can be a force in the lineup, too. It's just all about carrying that through a year. I think it'd put him to another level if he does that in the course of a year."
To that end, Crawford is working on his approach at the plate this spring. He's trying to keep his front shoulder closed a little longer so he can get a longer look at each pitch, hoping that allows him to hit to all fields a little bit more. The results aren't there yet in Arizona -- he's hitting .222 (8-for-36) with just one extra-base hit in Cactus League play.
Still, he feels confident this is the stage of his career where he can take it to another level offensively, particularly after a visit with Barry Bonds, who spent a week working with hitters in the Giants organization this spring.
"He said he didn't really become a good hitter until three full seasons in, so it definitely takes a little time to adjust," Crawford said. "I mean, not everybody can be Buster [Posey] and stay consistent right from the beginning like he has."
Seeing what Bonds accomplished after learning the ropes his first few years is one reason why Crawford believes he can improve, although he knows he won't be a Bonds or a Posey at the plate.
But he could become a better Brandon Crawford.
"Everybody seems to think that because you hit .248 the first two full years, that's the kind of hitter you are. I don't think so," Crawford said. "I think I'm a much better hitter than that."
While Bochy believes Crawford could improve his defense -- his 15 errors were third-most among Major League shortstops last year -- simply by trying not to do too much on certain plays, Crawford's veteran double-play partner Marco Scutaro knows this is a player whose glove is strong, and he only needs his bat to follow suit.
If he does, Crawford definitely could take his career to another level, even without hitting a grand slam every game.
"Defensively, he's up there with anybody," Scutaro said. "He just needs to have quality ABs every day, and try to be consistent. Hitting's hard. He's getting better, and when he starts doing that, he's definitely going to be an All-Star shortstop."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.