Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Spotlight: Will Craig

The Pirates deviated from their tendency to draft high school players early in drafts when they selected Will Craig, a college player from Wake Forest University, in the first round or 2016.

In 2016 the Pittsburgh Pirates fell in love with the potential of Will Craig's bat to the extent that they were willing to ignore their preference for high school players early in drafts in order to select him. 

The scouting reports on him said that he had serious power potential, but would sacrifice some points on batting average. In his first two seasons, There were some serious concerns about that power as he only hit 8 home runs in 676 at bats. However, once he got to AA Altoona, the power started to materialize. In the past two seasons, Craig has hit 43 homers (20 in AA in 2018 and 23 so far this year in AAA).

True to his pre-draft scouting report, Craig's batting average dipped noticeably once he transformed into a power hitter. I don't have a problem with him hitting in the .250 range if he can become a 30 home run guy in the middle of the lineup. That's what the Pirates are in desperate need of right now. In a year in which the league's single-season home run mark was broken, the Pirates have contributed only 158 (41 below the National League average) so far. This is a big reason why the Pirates struggled to score runs this season despite boasting the fifth-best batting average - few players outside of Josh Bell had the power to bring them all home.

Craig can help change that, but one serious question looms over his potential arrival in Pittsburgh - where does he play? From day one Will Craig has been a first basemen and nothing else. There doesn't seem to be any potential to move him to third base or left field without significantly decreasing the defensive output at those positions. Josh Bell has played in the outfield, but are they really going to ask their best player to change positions? This problem has caused Craig to be a popular name in the trade rumor mill. The way I see it, the Pirates have three options when it comes to how to handle Craig: move him or Bell to the outfield, move him or Bell to third, or trade him.

A move to third base, whether it's Craig or Bell who moves, creates the exact same complexity for Will Craig's Indianapolis (AAA) teammate Ke'Bryan Hayes and, at this point, if the Bucs were to pick one prospect to keep, it's likely to be Hayes. Craig currently sits at number 10 on mlb.com's list of Pirate prospects, while Hayes is technically number one (with Mitch Keller moving the majors). When you consider the fact that Hayes is a potential gold-glove third baseman, this isn't really an option.

The best scenario that I can see for making room on the roster for Craig would be to move Josh Bell back to the outfield. When the Pirates drafted him, he profiled as an outfielder, but moved to first because the Bucs wanted his bat in the lineup, but liked the defense of Marte, Polanco, and McCutchen. With that group mostly dismantled, a change can be made. The question that remains is, is Bell willing and capable to make that move?

The last scenario is the most likely to me - that they trade him. While it would be great to get Craig's bat in the lineup next season, it doesn't make a lot of sense defensively. Almost every team in the league can use an additional power bat. So, the Bucs may be able to flip Craig to replenish their stable of pitchers in the system.

No matter what happens with Will Craig, he has developed into the player they drafted him to be.

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