Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s Time To Move On From Will Craig
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have the best history with first round picks. Will Craig just might go down as another one of those disappointing picks.
Usually, you have high hopes for the players you draft in the first round of the MLB draft. In 2016, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected corner infielder Will Craig out of Wake Forest University with their first pick (22nd overall). So far, using their pick on Craig has not worked out like they would have wanted it to. Now 25-years-old, the Pirates should seriously consider moving on from the former first rounder.
This is a topic I brought up briefly in my “What Is The Future Of First Base For The Pirates” article. However, I feel I could go further into detail to support the argument that Craig is not the future first baseman of the Pirates, and that the Pirates should seriously consider moving on from him.
Craig’s first few pro seasons weren’t all that bad. Craig was definitely getting on base, having a 15% walk rate in 2016 in 274 plate appearances, and an 11.4% walk rate in 2017 in 542 PAs. Craig also provided a decent batting average, but was overall lackluster for a first baseman. In both seasons, Craig couldn’t get his slugging % above .400, (.362 in ‘16, .371 in ‘17), and combined for 8 home runs, and 47 total extra base hits. That’s half of the total long balls he hit in his final college season back during 2016, and close to 75% of his hits were singles.
When 2018 rolled around, Craig finally started to hit for some power, but at the expense of his plate discipline. He hit 20 home runs and 30 doubles but his walk rate fell to 7.7%. Still though, his 20 home runs ranked 6th in the Easter League (Altoona’s league), and his .448 slugging % ranked 13th. Overall, he hit .248/.321/.448 with 20 home runs, and finishing with a 110 wRC+. It was a pretty solid season, but he didn’t do anything else aside from hit 20 home runs. Almost 17% of all of his hits that season were home runs, and nearly 45% of all his hits were for extra bases.
Craig entered 2019 with the Indianapolis Indians, and regressed, by a large margin. Craig hit just .249/.326/.435 with 23 home runs in 556 plate appearances. His plate discipline fell even further, now striking out more than a quarter of the time (26.3%), and walking just 7.9% of the time. In a vacuum, his power doesn’t seem like it took that big of a step backwards, but compared to the rest of the league, it was awful.
Craig’s 23 home runs ranked 18th in the International League, while his slugging of .435 ranked 42nd. In comparison, Kevin Cron hit 38 home runs at the same level, but in 82 games. Guys who have never even been known for their power like Dilson Herrera, Socrates Brito, Brandon Barnes, and Rafael Ortega were out-slugging a guy who was supposed to be one of the Pirates’ better power hitting prospects.
Craig isn’t going to provide value with the glove, either. Although he has worked on his glove work at first base, he still grades out as an average defender. FanGraphs gives him a 40 glove grade, and MLB.com gives him a 50 grade.
He does have a capable arm, having above average grades across the board (FanrGaphs 60, MLB.com 55), and even saw some time in right field at the end of last season. Although, with limited range (sub-40 run grades by both FanGraphs and MLB.com), I wouldn’t rely on him to do too well in the grass.
Now, yes, he made just 1 error at first base in 2019, but you cannot say that makes him a good defender. For example, first base Gold Glove finalist Christian Walker made 13 errors at first base despite leading the league in DRS (+9). In Nolan Arenado’s seven full MLB seasons, he has only twice had less than double digits in errors in a season.
This leaves Craig as a sub-par prospect. His once great plate discipline has now evaporated, and his power is decent, but not good enough to make up for the lack of walks. At this point, he is a complete boom-or-bust guy. Add in the fact that he isn’t a great defender and you aren’t left with much. I project him as a more versatile Colin Moran, but with more power. He can play wherever you need him to, but I would not rely on him defensively. Offensive wise, Craig will make a solid platoon/bench bat. However, if you expect more than just that out of him, you will likely be let down.