Friday, June 10, 2016

Will Craig - A Big Bopper For the First Pick

Will Craig began inauspiciously, playing for Johnson City, Tennessee's Science Hill HS, where he was a teammate of Tigers' lefty Daniel Norris. We say inauspiciously because he only got three offers out of high school: Wake Forest, Georgia Southern and Sanford, despite being All-Region for three years, playing in the Area Code and Perfect Game tournaments and being named a Louisville Slugger High School All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He had a bad case of big fish, small pond syndrome.

The Deacons were not only the best program, but the only one that would let him play the field; the others wanted him as a hurler only. He was a big kid with a strong arm; KC drafted him in the 37th round in 2013, but the money wasn't there and he kept his commitment to Wake Forest. He and the Deacs were glad he did. Will won a starting job at the hot corner as a freshman in 2014, slashing .280/.357/.439 and also seeing some action from the bump, mainly as a reliever

His sophomore season got his name on the radar screens big time with a line of .382/.496/.702 with muscles. He banged out 20 doubles, 13 homers and drove in 58 runs in just 191 at-bats. Craig also worked a lot of the mound in both starting and pen roles, tho not performing as impressively as he did at the dish, going 3-4/6.09. He was named ACC Player of the Year and earned spots on several All-America squads.

Will Craig (photo via Wake Forest Baseball)

The big guy (6-3, 235) kept on keeping on this year. His 2016 slash was .379/.520/.731 with 16 doubles, 16 homers, and 66 RBI in 182 at bats. Working from the pen, he also was a pretty fair country pitcher, going 2-0-6/3.54 and featuring a low-90s fastball. Craig was named First Team All-ACC, with another bushel load of honors on the way. And for a slugger, his eye is superb. In 562 college ABs, he whiffed 92 times and walked 110. His personal philosophy is to look for a pitch he can square up on and ignore the others; seems to have worked out pretty well so far. Craig also uses all fields, although his power is most noticeable when he finds a pitch to pull.

His bona fides are as a hitter, so forget his pitching chops; we won't see an Allie Stetson or John Van Benschoten here, despite Rob Manfred's slip up on draft day when he ID'ed Craig as a twirler. In fact, the bat is really his only plus tool and the key to his future.

There's general agreement that Will's future spot will ultimately be at first base. While his arm is more than strong enough for third or even a corner OF spot, his range and overall foot speed aren't (although we're sure the Bucs will start him out as a 3B; more value there). There's also general agreement that the 21 year old's stick, a trifecta of average, power and a discerning eye, should play well at the pro level. But there are a couple of disclaimers to go along with Craig.

Will Craig (photo via ACC Blog)

First, there's a red flag after a bad summer in the Cape Cod league that features wooden bats and better caliber competition; he hit .230 with one home run in 139 at-bats there last summer. No one seems overly concerned about that -  most consider the campaign more of a learning experience rather than a measuring stick. His defense is another question, as scouts vary on their opinions on whether he can play the infield corners or is destined to become a DH, especially as he ages.

And that may hinge on his body, not so much soft but often described as "thick." We're sure conditioning will be a big part of his introduction to professional ball, so the organization's trainers may have as much to do with his ultimate success as the coaches. And that is the key to this selection - he's a first round value if he can become a corner guy with some bop, but not so much if he ends up DH fodder like Pedro.

One last debate is over his strike zone coverage. He's a high ball hitter, and that's not where most MLB pitchers live. So he'll have to adjust to a steady diet of knee high servings. Will should be able to make that adjustment, but it will cost him statistically, at least re: BA and K-to-BB.

For their position in the draft, this is a dice roll worth taking for the Pirates. They don't have much power in the minor league system, and taking a shot at a guy who may have the best overall hitting tool in the draft is a move to strengthen the organization with a potential big reward down the road.

As the 22nd selection in the draft, his slot value is $2,253,700.

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