The 2020 season is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the former first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Will Craig. Drafted with the 22nd overall selection in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, Craig hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations of his first-round draft slot, leaving some to question if he ever will.
When the Pirates selected Craig in the first round of the 2016 draft out of Wake Forest University, they did so with the belief that he had the raw power to make him a perennial home run threat with Pittsburgh.
Despite being labeled as a power prospect, Craig hasn’t shown the power numbers that most expected when he was drafted. Instead he disappointed, hitting a combined eight home runs in his first two seasons in the minor leagues.
However, he would see that number spike to 20 in 2018, with the Pirates Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve. In 2019, he would hit a career-high 23 home runs with their Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians.
Even though he hit a career number of home runs last season, concern remains about his power potential, as he hit only six of the 26 home runs after May last year. Part of his struggles at Indianapolis may be attributed to the fact that he was playing new positions to expand his options in the future with Pittsburgh.
Originally drafted as a third baseman, Craig had played most of his minor league career as a first baseman before trying his hand as both a left fielder and right fielder last season in Indianapolis.
Craig was initially believed to fit best as a designated hitter because his fielding skills were viewed as sub-par. This was an issue for Pittsburgh, given that they are entrenched in the National League where the designated hitter is only utilized in away games as part of inter-league play.
Interestingly, Craig improved upon his defensive skills dramatically last season while learning to play additional new positions. He would go on to make only one error at first base in 2019. There remains an issue with him being entrenched at first base, as the Pirates have All-Star Josh Bell blocking him at the position.
If Craig can prove that he can play adequate defense at either of the corner outfield positions, he may have a better opportunity of making the major league roster. Another possibility is that the Pirates decide to move Bell to the outfield to make room for Craig.
Ranked as the 12th overall prospect in the Pirates organization, Craig is on the cusp of making the major league roster for the Pirates. Last season with Indianapolis, he had 556 at-bats with a .249 batting average, 23 home runs, 69 runs scored, 78 runs batted in, and two stolen bases.
On a scale of 20-80 with 50 being average, Craig has a rating of 50 for his hit tool, 55 for raw power, a speed rating of 30, a fielding rating of 40 and an above-average rating of 60 for his throwing ability. It should come as no surprise that he has decent arm strength, given that he doubled as a pitcher for Wake Forest.
The Pirates are likely to have Craig begin 2020 back at Indianapolis to find a definitive defensive position for him, and so that he can work on fine-tuning his plate discipline. Last season he posted a 26.3% strikeout rate and 7.9% walk rate, both of which could be vastly improved upon.
While initially seen as a prospect who would sacrifice batting average for the sake of producing solid power numbers, Craig was still seen as a player with above-average plate discipline. However, last year’s strikeout and walk rates call into question his plate discipline.
Craig is currently on the 40-man roster for the Pirates and could make the team as a bench bat with a strong performance in spring training. The Pirates may be better served to allow the 6’3” and 215-pound prospect more seasoning in the minors before thrusting him into the major league lineup.
Regardless of where he begins the season, the Pirates and their fans hope that Craig can rekindle the prodigious power and keen plate discipline that made him the tantalizing prospect that warranted the Pirates spending a first-round draft pick on.
If Craig can put it all together this season and tap into the immense amount of talent that he possesses, the past seasons of underproduction will be long forgotten by all. At 25-years of age to begin the season, this will be an extremely important season for Craig to prove the naysayers wrong.