The Craig Conundrum

It’s incredibly convenient that Will Craig’s first name has the ability to double as a question because that is something he has delivered to the franchise that drafted him in the first round in the 2016 Amateur draft.

At first he looked like the next logical player to take over for a quickly fading Pedro Alvarez, but almost just a quickly as those expectations were bestowed on the young man, he was moved to first base. Thank god the collective fan base exclaimed, the Pirates had been an absolute hole at first base since Sid Bream left for Atlanta.

Enter Josh Bell, a switch hitting power threat who came up as an outfielder but lacked the athleticism required by that position in the bigs. His new home? Why first base of course. Will Craig had become an absolute defensive whiz at first base and had started to find some traction with the bat. He was asked to focus on power and as with so many that came at the expense of contact. In 2018 he hit 20 (128 SO) home runs, in 2019 he hit 23 (146 SO), again, this is to be expected to some degree but when you’re trying to supplant a legitimate MVP candidate it just isn’t good enough.

Maybe we should try moving him back to third you say? Yeah, well maybe, but there’s this kid they drafted in 2015 named Ke’Bryan Hayes who is defensively superior and has some upside with the bat himself knocking on the door.

So what do you do with Craig? He’s a legitimate talent, he’s done nothing you’d consider wrong per se. He’s actually progressed along at a very normal pace through the system if I’m honest. He was a college draftee and for that he arrived with a set of expectations about how far along he should be from the start, but in reality he is very much so on track. Last season the Pirates decided to give him a crack at the outfield, now don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t have the tools to play center or even left at PNC, but he could hold down right field with competency I’m sure but who is he beating out for that position?

Polanco stinks you say, of course, he’s awful out there isn’t he? Well, side by side Polanco would beat him out 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. Maybe a platoon, but is he better than Jose Osuna? Polanco won’t be here forever, his options dry up after the 2023 season (and yes, they’ll exercise them so long as he can prove he’s healthy), Craig could start to take reps there as early as this year if they so chose, but I don’t see him leap frogging Martin, Osuna, Herredia, and potentially even Oliva for time in the outfield.

OK, so MLB will have a DH this year, it’s happening people move on, maybe Bell is the DH and Craig can step right in to play first base, again, is he better than Osuna? Maybe Craig is the DH himself, man this is getting repetitive, is he better than Osuna? Jose isn’t Lou Gehrig of course but if we are just trying to find a place for Craig to play, maybe we should first worry about a guy who has already been on the roster for a few years now who has the same issue.

When building a team, you can’t ever 100% pretend you know exactly where everyone you draft will end up. I could be referring to time they arrive, position they play or indeed if they ever arrive at all. That said, your first round picks, especially when they do everything they were asked to do, must have a place to land. As MLB gets its wish this year for a truncated draft many talented prospects will be forced to choose going pro for 20K or going to college. The teams in MLB vying for the new free agent un-drafted men will be thrust into an NCAA like recruitment situation. This could be good or bad for Pittsburgh honestly, players if savvy enough will look at a franchise like the Pirates and realize there is opportunity due to the overall lack of top end talent in the system. Others will look to the dream of playing for hometown teams, and some will want to join a winner. When a player looks at the Pirates will they see Will Craig as an example of how the team wastes talent, or will they see a player who made it and never stopped progressing no matter what the team asked of him?

I can’t say how most players will react, but I can say a team with limited resources should move mountains to find a way to use every bit they do have. Will Craig is in genuine danger of being wasted, running out of years he can spend in MiLB the Pirates will be forced to give him a chance sooner than later, they will also be forced to see that audition as a final decision.

The baseball world expects the Pirates to trade Josh Bell, despite the rhetoric coming from his agent recently, we’ve seen this movie before. When they do, if they do, will Craig be an answer or an ill fitting band aid on the position? I don’t know, but I sure would like to see him try, how about you Mr. Cherrington?

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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