Four home runs in three games across two levels, one of them being the Major Leagues.
Will Craig is having a hell of a week.
Where there's a Will, there's a way. pic.twitter.com/yJQmIBHEiJ
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 14, 2021
The first base position is open in Pittsburgh for the long-term. The Pirates originally drafted Craig in the first round in 2016, and while he was a third baseman at the time, the thought was always that first base would be the spot for him.
Unfortunately, Craig hasn’t lived up to his draft profile. He has the ability to hit for average and get on base. He’s got the frame and the strength to hit for power. He has yet to be able to do both things at the same time.
When Craig has hit for power in the past, his average and OBP drop to a three-true-outcomes type player. When he hits for average and gets on base, he doesn’t have enough power to justify his spot at first base.
That’s either a paradox, or it’s just two separate parts of the amalgam leading to “Will Craig: MLB Starting First Baseman”.
I spoke with Pirates’ farm director John Baker on Thursday, discussing what the Pirates have seen from Craig. This interview was after the three home runs in two days in Triple-A, and hours before Craig’s first home run in the majors.
“I think Will went through the first really challenging part of his career this offseason, getting designated for assignment in the offseason, and taken off the roster,” Baker said. “He responded with this willingness to do his best to revamp his game and take on some new challenges, with the movement stuff, but also challenging himself in training and practice.”
Baker discussed Craig’s brief time in Triple-A, which on the stat sheet only showed two good games. Craig went 1-for-20 in the five game road series against Iowa to start the season, before going 5-for-6 with three homers in the first two home games in Indianapolis.
“I’m really proud of the fact that he didn’t have immediate success in Iowa,” Baker said. “Hit some balls hard, but didn’t get hits. And then comes out the first two games in Indianapolis and tears the stadium down driving balls to the outfield. This is a former first rounder that was drafted at that place for a reason, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do, if given a better opportunity at the Major League level, showing up when he’s doing well.”
Craig got the start last night, batting 8th in the order. It was a bigger opportunity than he received in 2020, coming from the alternate training site to make a brief appearance in the majors.
“Last year was very challenging for a lot of those guys coming from the alternate site, not having actual game experience, and then trying to play in the big leagues — and hats off to everyone who came up and did well, it’s an incredible achievement and accomplishment,” Baker said. “This is more of what we’re used to, guys showing up in the Major Leagues game-ready because they’re playing in a minor league season. I’m just excited to see what Will can do.”
You want to see the power that Craig has displayed this week, at any level. His game as a first baseman will be fueled by power production. He’s got the ability to do that, and hopefully while also maintaining his average and OBP. Baker discussed what Craig has been working on to bring this part of his game into the game.
“For Will, there’s two points,” Baker said. “There’s the stimulus that you’re challenged with in training, and then there’s him continuing to load into his back hip, and riding that out for a longer period of time, so he can kind of hold onto the energy. He’s been focused on that since the offseason.”
Baker also had some interesting comments about the development process, especially the idea of when a change takes place.
“Movement patterns don’t change immediately,” Baker said. “There’s this pervasive myth in baseball that eventually something clicks for somebody, and they just get it, and now they’ve got it and they don’t ever have to worry about it again. I don’t believe that that’s true. I think you constantly have to vary training stimulus, and you constantly have to focus on the things that make you good, but also the weaknesses. The idea that guys get to the big leagues and they’re just fixed, and that’s it, and they’re not going to get any better. I think that does a disservice to these guys in the major leagues that are the best athletes in the world.”
I’ll let Baker’s words finish off this article by bringing it back to Craig:
“When you think about somebody like Will, just because you get drafted in the first round, doesn’t mean you can’t get better at what you’re doing,” Baker said. “And just because you’ve been playing professional baseball for five or six years, doesn’t mean you can’t continuously get better. These are still guys in their 20s, whose brains are still developing, and bodies are still developing. The idea that they are these fixed things, where our responsibility is let’s just get him there and keep him the same. No, we look at everybody, and we say how can we introduce the right environment for this player to become a better player? How can we alter his task, how can we alter the environment with him, so that he moves the way we think he moves most efficiently? Will has just really bought in, from the conversations I’ve had with him this offseason, and the training that he was doing in Nashville, to what he’s continued to do through Major League camp, working with our Major League hitting coach Rick Eckstein, working with our Triple-A hitting coach Jon Nunnally, working with Kevin Young, and working with our entire hitting department to move himself forward.”
I have a lot more coming up from my interview with John Baker, with an article a day, and a few articles you’ll see over at Baseball America.
It feels so good to have actual minor league baseball to react to and report on again.