Baseball America ranked their top 20 first base prospects on Tuesday morning and Will Craig made the list for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
BA has Craig ranked 19th overall in a year that they give the position a two star ranking out of five possible stars. It’s great to see him on the list, but that’s not a lot to get excited about. Another way to look at it is that they didn’t have him in the top 20 a year ago when they gave the first base group a one star ranking. So it’s a stronger class this year and he moved up in the rankings. You at least like to see the positive trend as someone moves up the system.
Craig showed more power in 2018, while sacrificing some of the high OBP we saw in 2017. He hit 20 homers during the regular season with Altoona, then tied for the league lead with six homers in the Arizona Fall League. He worked during the 2017-18 off-season to get in better shape, which helped him finish strong, but he also ran better and looked better at first base. During the recent winter mini-camp, he looked to be in great shape once again.
While Craig is the top first base prospect for the Pirates and he will be in Triple-A this year, trying to show he belongs in the majors, the position is not a deep one for the farm system. I say that now knowing that Oneil Cruz could one day be a big target at first base if that’s where the Pirates decide he is needed. He’s at shortstop for now though, so a quick look at the depth chart in our 2019 Prospect Guide shows that just one other first base prospect (Mason Martin) made our top 50, then there is a big drop-off at the position after him.
As we saw yesterday with catchers, that lack of depth is an issue behind the plate. At first base it’s not such a big deal because it’s the easiest position to transition to in baseball. You can’t take any outfielder and put him at shortstop or throw him behind the plate, but it’s worked many times in baseball history with first base. The same holds true for every other position player. If someone hits enough, you can find a spot for them. The Pirates have a couple of recent examples that add some doubt for people about the transition to first base (Josh Bell and Pedro Alvarez), but those players weren’t even average defensively at their own position before the change. At least with Will Craig, he has adjusted much better with his move to first base and he did it at an early stage in his career.