The raging debate at this point a year ago was whether Maikel Franco has usurped Jesse Biddle as the Philadelphia Phillies' top prospect.
By the end of the season, there really was no debate, not after Franco, the former Williamsport Crosscutter, hit 31 combined home runs between Advanced Class A Clearwater and Class AA Reading.
The top of the Phillies' prospect list has again no debate, but for a far different reason. J.P. Crawford has not only become the hands-down top prospect in the system, he's running away with the race.
You could look at the struggles of the preseason top prospect Maikel Franco, and the struggles of former top prospect Jesse Biddle as the reason for Crawford's ascension. But the 19-year-old shortstop has driven the conversation with an absolutely electric entrance in to the Phillies' minor league system since he was drafted 16th overall in the 2013 draft.
"I've been moved pretty fast in our organization," Crawford told MLB.com's Paul Hagen prior to the Futures Game on Sunday. "They're trying to push me on the fast track, and I like the challenge."
Phillies Director of Player Development Joe Jordan hasn't been shy since taking the position with challenging prospects he thinks can handle tougher assignments than expected in the organization. True learning comes from a touch of failure and struggle. The problem with Crawford is there hasn't been a whole lot of failure or struggle.
For the first time in his career, Crawford is facing adversity in Clearwater. But it's to be expected. He's nearly 4 years younger than the average player in the Florida State League.
Crawford was advertised when drafted as a player with superior defensive abilities who was going to be able to hang at shortstop his entire career, but there was questions about what he'd be able to do with the bat. He's answered those questions quite resoundingly, hitting .345 in the Gulf Coast League last year before skipping Williamsport and going on to hit .208 at Lakewood as an 18-year-old.
He began this season at Lakewood where he hit .295 before moving to Clearwater just a couple weeks ago. In 22 games, he's hit .261 with the Threshers, but his four home runs are more than he's hit at any other stop along his short, but impactful, minor league journey.
Crawford hasn't become one of the best prospects in just the Phillies' system. He's become one of the best prospects in all of minor league baseball.
He's become a consensus Top 30 prospect among all organizations in mid-season rankings released thus far. Should his batting average return to the near-.300 mark it's been the last two years, he could find himself in the conversation for the best shortstop prospect in the game.
The Phillies haven't had a prospect so well thought of since Domonic Brown was coming through Clearwater and Reading in 2011. And it couldn't come at a better time for the Phillies. The farm system was decimated by years of trading away prospects to help fuel the big league club's run of five consecutive National League East championships. Top picks didn't pan out as the organization drafted toolsy prospects who were light on baseball polish.
Crawford has put a charge of excitement into the system, though. And his addition to a list which is increasingly growing deeper and deeper with potential impact prospects, is putting the Phillies on the brink of having options on the farm capable of helping a struggling big league club.
This year's mid-season list is ripe with potential. The problem is a vast majority of the potential is residing in the lower levels of the Phillies' system. Sure, there's players like Franco, Cam Perkins and Kelly Dugan, all former Crosscutters, who are only a step or two away from a roster spot in Philadelphia. But true impact potential - the Crawfords, Roman Quinns, Deivi Grullons or Yoel Meciases of the system - are all still in A-Ball.
So a few notes about this year's mid-season list: As always, players who have appeared in Philadelphia for significant time are not eligible, which is why you won't see players like Ethan Martin, Kenny Giles, Cesar Hernandez, Cameron Rupp or Mario Hollands on the list. Their status as prospects are all but completed, they're not big league pieces.
I wavered for quite some time on what to do with Cuban free agent signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. I decided to treat him as a major league free agent since the contract he signed last year with the Phillies was a major league contract.
But even without those names, this has become a pretty exciting list. There's plenty of debate to be made about it, but there's no debating who's on top.
Mitch Rupert covers the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.