WILL CRAIG, FIRST BASEMAN
|Born: November 16, 1994
Drafted: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2016
How Acquired: Draft
College: Wake Forest
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Craig was a departure for the Pirates as a first round pick. They focused heavily on contact-oriented, gap-to-gap hitters in some of their drafts, especially in 2015, but Craig’s calling card was supposed to be power. He won the Atlantic Coast Conference triple crown and player of the year in 2015, with a 382/496/702 line. He then had an even better year in 2016, hitting 392/537/766. He didn’t have major problems with strikeouts, with a 41:24 BB:K ratio in 2015 and 47:33 in 2016. There were some doubts about his bat, as he played in a hitter-friendly home park and didn’t do well in the wood-bat Cape Cod League. He has a strong enough arm for third, as he threw a low-90s fastball and served as a closer in college, but scouts weren’t sure he’d be able to stay at third and, in fact, he moved to first in his first full season. Baseball America had Craig rated 44th among draft prospects, while MLB.com had him 31st. Craig signed just a few days after the draft for exactly the slot amount.
Like Kevin Newman the year before, Craig got off to a very slow start at the plate. By July 16, he was batting just .159 and slugging just .203. After that, he batted .336. The power never really surfaced, though, as Craig got a lot of hits just by serving balls to the opposite field. He drew a huge number of walks, but advanced hitters at lower levels who get most of their value from walks generally don’t do well as they move up. Craig also had issues in the field, committing 16 errors and not showing good range. His .889 fielding percentage was more like something you’d see from a teenager in the Dominican Summer League, not from a first round draft pick out of a major college program.
Craig’s season can only be considered a disappointment, as he simply did not show anything approaching the power he was expected, and needs, to produce. He showed good strike zone judgment, but didn’t even hit for a particularly high average. He seemed to be putting things together in June, when he hit 354/448/524, but he slumped badly after that. He hit 279/373/375 in July and a miserable 209/318/220 in August, with just one extra base hit, a double. He hit only one HR in 65 games after June 15. It’s tempting to attribute the lack of power to the Florida State League, but teammates Cole Tucker, Mitchell Tolman, Casey Hughston and Ty Moore not only had higher slugging averages but much higher isolated power numbers. Even light-hitting utility infielder Logan Ratledge posted a higher ISO. Logan Hill, Jordan George and Kevin Krause hit for significantly more power than Craig. In fact, Craig’s slugging average was below the team’s average. Craig hit very well against LHPs, with a 349/432/516 line, but struggled to a 243/352/317 line against RHPs. The one positive was that he adapted well to first base, where he moved in deference to Ke’Bryan Hayes, but he’ll have to hit a lot better to succeed there. When Altoona needed a first baseman after Edwin Espinal’s promotion, the Pirates promoted George rather than Craig, which speaks volumes.
Craig came into the season in better shape and also changed his approach at the plate, going for more loft and more power. The result was that he more than doubled his career total and led the system in homers, while also driving in 102 runs. He was also fifth in the Eastern League in both homers and doubles. The downside was an increase in strikeouts and a drop in both hits and walks. The end result was an OPS that was about what it was the previous two years. He had no platoon split. The better conditioning showed on the bases. Craig also has developed into a good first baseman; he was voted the best defensively in the league.
Craig got off to a great start at Indianapolis, hitting 15 home runs in his first 46 games. He then hit just eight in his last 85. He hit very little after May. His monthly OPS, excluding September:
Overall, his hitting was almost exactly the same as the previous year despite the fact that hitting in the International League exploded due to a livelier ball. His overall hitting was below the league average of 266/342/445. He struggled against LHPs, with just a .686 OPS compared to .789 against RHPs. His K rate increased and his walk rate did not. The Pirates did not call him up in September.
Craig is finally hitting for more power, but his overall hitting hasn’t really improved. A below-league-average hitter at first base isn’t a good combination. He’s also got the issue of being blocked by Josh Bell. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so the Pirates will have to add him to the 40-man roster.
|2020: Minor league contract
|Signing Bonus: $2,253,700
MiLB Debut: 2016
MiLB FA Eligible: 2022
MLB FA Eligible:
Rule 5 Eligible: 2019
Added to 40-Man:
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|June 8, 2013: Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 37th round, 1104th overall pick.
June 9, 2016: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 22nd overall pick; signed on June 15.