BRADENTON, Fla. – If Will Craig is going to provide any value as a prospect, or a future MLB player, he’s going to need to hit for more power.
The Pirates drafted Craig in the first round of the 2016 draft. He was taken as a third baseman who was seen as an eventual first baseman. That move happened quickly, due to Craig being on the same team as Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is the best defensive third baseman and the best third base prospect in the system.
Craig moved to first base just after Josh Bell had his debut season in the majors. That didn’t look good for his future in Pittsburgh, unless he could show that he would eventually be a better option than Bell. His defense might be the same or better than Bell’s defense, and that’s considering the improvements that Bell made last year. But the offense has been lacking so far.
When Craig was drafted, he was seen as a guy who could hit for average, get on base, along with some power potential. The first few things have happened. Craig had a .271 average in the very pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He struck out 19.6% of the time and walked 11.4% of the time. But the power wasn’t there.
Craig hit six home runs in 542 plate appearances last year. He had a .100 ISO, which isn’t good, even in a pitcher-friendly league. For perspective, that total was beaten by middle infielders like Mitchell Tolman, Cole Tucker, and Logan Ratledge.
If Craig was going to be a prospect going forward, he needed more power. He knew that.
“I feel like I have a lot of power,” Craig said. “It’s just that last year it only showed a few times. This year my goal is to show that power again, but consistently be doing it on a daily basis, and working on my routines to be able to get me in the right spot hitting, mentally and physically.”
The goal for Craig this year was to get more consistent with barreling up on the ball. I thought he might be a candidate for a swing-overhaul, embracing the trend of adding lift and hitting fly balls. As Craig will tell you, a heavier fly ball approach would be a good thing for him.
“As we all know, I’m not a speed demon, so I don’t need to be hitting ground balls all the time,” Craig said.
But how to accomplish this? Craig already has some lift to his swing. He doesn’t need to embrace the trend of adding lift and creating leverage. But he does need to work to be able to make that lift more consistent.
That wasn’t happening last year. He had the lift in his swing, but it wouldn’t always work, due to his lower body and upper body not matching up. He narrowed the lower half a bit, trying to bring in all together. He also showed up in much better shape this spring, which can only help. The hope is that he could find a way to get his swing to use his natural lift by being in sync more often.
“With the way I was swinging last year, it’s really hard for the way my swing was finishing up to really have a good angle on the ball,” Craig said. “I have natural lift in my swing anyways, but being able to organize everything where it fits properly in my swing. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I do get everything lined up and matched up properly, the launch angle works itself out.”
Craig moved to Nashville over the offseason, where his agency is located. He worked out a lot with them, and talked with Pirates’ hitting coordinator Larry Sutton over the offseason to keep in touch. When he arrived in Bradenton over the offseason for a mini-camp, he drew some good reviews from his coaches.
“I showed them what I was working on. They were all happy for it and ready for me to go,” Craig said. “They said it’s the best spot I’ve been in, hitting-wise.”
I haven’t seen Craig enough this spring to really say that he’s going to turn things around this year and hit for more power. I’ve seen some good things with his swing. There was this single the other day:
There was also this home run in big league camp:
By comparison, here was a video I got of him last year, hitting a triple off Braeden Ogle:
Three videos and three different angles, but a few differences I noticed:
**He doesn’t have as big of a bat wrap this year, pre-swing. The bat isn’t behind his head as much, which can shorten the swing.
**He was a bit more open last year in his stance. He still has a bit of a leg kick, but he does look more narrow this year, a bit more upright, and there’s less for his lower half to do.
**The swing looks a bit shorter, with a more direct path to the zone, and some good lift. Not that there wasn’t lift on the ball last year, but you can see how the cleaned up swing this year might lead to that more consistently, while the bat wrap and the longer swing last year could have created some issues.
I don’t know if Craig will add more power this year. Typically that happens just by moving out of the Florida State League, although Craig needed more than just a new league to see an increase. He’s certainly addressing the issue, and there have been a few positive signs during Spring Training. If he does end up hitting for more power, it will most likely be due to these changes he made, and might lead to him finally showing why the Pirates liked him as a first round pick.