Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Prospects Running Out of Time

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TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 28: Will Craig #75 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes the grab at first base for an out against the New York Yankees during the Spring Training game at Steinbrenner Field on February 28, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 28: Will Craig #75 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes the grab at first base for an out against the New York Yankees during the Spring Training game at Steinbrenner Field on February 28, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

First Baseman Will Craig

Will Craig was drafted in the 1st round out of Wake Forest by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016. He’s shown flashes of what he could be, but has yet to put it all together. Though he was drafted as a power hitting third base prospect, Craig was moved over to first base, but didn’t show much power in his first two professional seasons.

Between 2016 and 2017, Craig had a solid .273 batting average, .386 on-base percentage, 12.6% walk rate, and 17.5% strikeout rate. But he totaled just eight home runs, 38 doubles, and one triple, all coming to a weak .355 slugging percentage and isolated slugging percentage of just .082. By the end of 2017, Craig ranked as the team’s 9th best prospect per MLB Pipeline, and by FanGraphs as well. In 2017, Craig’s first full pro season, he had a 123 wRC+.

After being moved up to Double-A, Craig did see a rise in power. Through 549 plate appearances, he hit 30 doubles, 20 home runs, had a much better .448 slugging percentage and .200 isolated slugging percentage. Impressively, he brought his ground ball percentage all the way from 45.8% in 2017 to just 29.7% the following season.

Just for reference, the MLB average in 2018 was 43%. But both his batting average, on base percentage and plate discipline went in the wrong directions. Craig got a lot more swing happy, striking out 23.3% of the time, and walking just 7.7% of the time. His batting average dropped to .248. Craig got a lot more pull happy to, as his pull percentage rose from 41% in 2017 to 47.3% in 2018. But it was still an overall decent season as Craig posted a 110 wRC+.  He also showed a clutch factor. Despite striking out 58 times with runners in scoring position, he had a .270 average and .497 slugging percentage.

But 2019 has so far been the worst year of Craig’s career. Craig saw his strikeout rate rise to 26.3%, while his walk rate remained at a weak 7.9%. His batting average also remained relatively the same to 2018, but his power took a major hit. Craig only hit 23 home runs and doubles, coming to a .435 slugging percentage and .183 isolated slugging, not very good numbers for a league that saw 55 players have at least 300 plate appearances and a .450 or higher slugging percentage.

Although he still had a strong ground ball rate, it rose to 36.8%. Part of Craig’s struggles have been because he has become very predictable. Craig pulled the ball 51.4% of the time while going the opposite way just 26.7% of the time. This is the first time his opposite field percentage has dropped below 30. After showing some pretty good numbers with RISP, did walk more with RISP, but saw his batting average drop to .257 and slugging drop to .421.

Craig still has solid power grades with a future 55 raw and game power grade. Since arriving on the scene, Craig has always been given good reviews for his arm strength and has a 60 current/future throw grade. With such a strong arm, the Pirates tried Craig out in right field, but lacks the range to play an outfield spot with just a speed grade of 30. Since he was a two-way prospect in college, and still possessing a strong arm, I’ve previously discussed the possibility of making him a two way prospect, which if the Pittsburgh Pirates want to try anything out of the ordinary, this is the year to do it. Defensively, he grades out as an overall average to above average first baseman.

Next. Pirate Bullpen: The Good, Bad & Unknown for 2020. dark

MLB Pipeline now has Will as the team’s 19th best prospect, but many other sources like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, do not list him in their top 20, with FanGraphs leaving him out of their top 50. Craig has since been passed by Mason Martin on prospect charts, and could soon be passed by Alexander Mojica. First base in the major leagues is a really, really deep position. Many batters can do what Craig does at the major league level, and then some as 29 first basemen finished with a wRC+ of at least 95 in 300 or more plate appearances. Craig might get a shot at some playing time in 2020 with Josh Bell and Colin Moran seeing time at DH this year, but it will still be a challenge for Craig as he was not one of the players who worked out at PNC Park during summer camp.

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