Although the Red Sox have optioned a number of their top prospects to the minor-leagues in recent days, Kutter Crawford remains at major-league camp and in the mix for an Opening Day bullpen spot, manager Alex Cora said Wednesday.
Crawford, who turns 26 on Friday, enters the 2022 season regarded by Baseball America as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks eighth among pitchers in the organization.
A former 16th-round draft pick out of Florida Gulf Coast University in 2017, Crawford made his major-league debut under unique circumstances with the Red Sox last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Nick Pivetta was scratched from his start against the Guardians on September 5, Crawford was called up and started in his place. The right-hander had a forgettable debut, allowing five runs in two-plus innings.
The Red Sox removed Crawford from their 40-man roster and returned him to Triple-A Worcester the following day. Since he was filling in for a player on the COVID-19 related injured list, though, they did not have to expose him to waivers.
After closing out his 2021 season with the WooSox, Crawford was added to Boston’s 40-man roster in November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft, which wound up getting cancelled due to the lockout. He then spent part of his off-season pitching in the Dominican Winter League and posted a 0.42 ERA in five starts (21 1/3 innings pitched) for Estrellas Orientales.
Coming into the spring with his first invite to major-league camp in tow, Crawford has made the most of his time in Fort Myers thus far by pitching to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and striking out eight of the 16 batters he has faced over three Grapefruit League appearances.
In the Red Sox’ 6-2 loss to the Pirates in Bradenton on Tuesday, Crawford offered a glimpse of what could make him effective as a reliever at the big-league level. Over two scoreless innings of relief, the 25-year-old righty scattered just one hit and one walk while recording five strikeouts. Of the 38 pitches he threw, 24 went for strikes with his four-seam fastball hovering around 95-97 mph.
“He has good stuff,” Cora said. “He’s throwing 97 mph with a good cutter, good split. He’s in the mix.”
Crawford has primarily been a starter throughout his pro career; only one of his 67 appearances in the minors have been in relief. The Sox, however, believe Crawford can make the transition from starting rotation to the bullpen because of the arsenal he has.
“We’re trying to win ballgames, right?” said Cora. “And we’re going to try to take the best 28 [players] that fit the program right now. Let’s put it that way because, as you guys know, this isn’t the final product.”
With just over a week to go until Opening Day on April 7, Crawford still has some work to do before knowing if he will be traveling with the Red Sox to the Bronx or meeting up with the WooSox in Jacksonville for their first series of the season.
“We do believe that he’s good, really good,” Cora said. “Last year, that outing, he was ahead in the count 0-2 a lot of times and it just happened. But, stuff-wise, he’s one of the best that we have. So, we still have a week, he still has a few innings, and we’ll make decisions when we have to.”
(Picture of Kutter Crawford: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)