BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates drafted Will Craig in the first round last year as a third baseman, and as is the case with any big third baseman, the countdown began on how long he would stick at the position before moving to first base. Craig hasn’t exactly made the full switch already, but he’s getting a lot of work at first base this spring, and is going into the season expecting to be playing more first base than third base.
“For right now they’re just telling me playing first and third,” Craig said. “First probably the majority early on, but I’m still getting my work in at third. Probably right now the majority at first.”
Larry Broadway, the Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations, said that Craig would get action at both spots, but also indicated that it could be more at first base. Ke’Bryan Hayes has been working with the Bradenton infield group a lot this spring, and I asked whether the move for Craig is because of Hayes. Broadway said they haven’t made a decision on Hayes yet, but that Hayes wouldn’t impact Craig.
“Not necessarily,” Broadway said on whether Hayes being in Bradenton would impact the position for Craig. “It could if [Hayes] is [in Bradenton], and obviously that’s another factor. I think more so when we talk about guys like Craig or Hayes that it’s more dependent on them than it is on the roster makeup. It will be up to Will to show us. Third base is tough to play everyday, and he’s a big guy. Just his ability to do that and stay agile over there and stay quick, and obviously he has the arm strength over there. We’ll keep an eye on the range, and try to get him in a position to be successful right away. Maybe a little more first base than third base. We’ll see how that plays out here.”
Craig had a busy first offseason. He took some time off after the combination of a long college season, his first pro season, and instructs. During this time, he got engaged. He then got back into the cages and on the field, with a focus to work on his conditioning. The big focus here was getting strength back into his legs to use them longer, but the conditioning also would help his chances of sticking at third.
“[I was] getting back in to the weight room, and getting back the strength into my legs,” Craig said. “Trying to change my diet, and trying to change everything up to clean up my body. I didn’t really lose weight as much, but really tone myself up and redistribute the weight. I think I did that as well as I could this offseason. Try to get back here and get ready.”
The Pirates have seen other players transition to first base over the years, and the transition isn’t always a smooth one (SEE: Bell, Josh). That shouldn’t be the case with Craig. He’s not exactly new at the position, playing it during his sophomore year in college. I talked with scouts last year who had seen him in college and had no concerns about his ability to play the position. He also got work at the spot during instructs, and worked on it some more later in the offseason.
“Now that I’ve gotten a lot of playing time over there in instructs, and I did some work in the offseason at first and third … for the most part it’s pretty comfortable,” Craig said of the position.
You can see that he looks pretty comfortable in the video above, including a split catch on one close play.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen too often,” Craig laughed. “That was kind of an accident. It feels good. I feel like I read the ball well, and feel like I pick it pretty well.”
From an individual standpoint, it makes more sense for Craig to stick at third base as long as possible, since he’d have more value at that position. His bat could still have value at first base, especially if he continues the strong performance we saw in the second half of the NYPL season last year after his slow start. And he doesn’t look like he would be a liability at first base on defense.
From an organizational standpoint, it makes more sense for Craig to move to first base the majority of the time, while still getting work at third. Ke’Bryan Hayes is the much better defender, and while it’s not yet decided whether he will be up in Bradenton on Opening Day, he will be up in Bradenton at some point this year. Craig could move up to Altoona by that point, but would also be dealing with guys ahead of him. Eric Wood is the better defender and has a better chance at sticking at third. Connor Joe is currently switching back and forth between first and third for the Altoona team, and could have a similar rotation with Craig in Altoona during the second half.
Craig is still getting work at third base. He spent two days in a row at first base this week, but was rotating grounders at third with Hayes on the third day I watched him. From all indications, it looks like he will continue seeing more time at first base in 2017, while still keeping third base as an option.