Will Craig determined before the 2018 season that the only way he was going to move up in the organization was to hit with power.
Craig had played third base and pitched at Wake Forest, where he was a first-team All-American as a junior and Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore. He has focused on first base since signing as a 2016 first-round pick.
Craig picked up the position fairly quickly, but his production in 2017 at high Class A Bradenton was underwhelming. He hit just six home runs and his star seemed to be falling.
In 2018 he embraced the launch-angle revolution and bashed 20 at Double-A Altoona. He also drove in 102 runs and posted career highs in doubles (30). He followed that with a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting six home runs to tie for the league lead.
“The arrow is pointing up for him,” farm director Larry Broadway said. “He wanted those homers quicker and he went for them this year. I think there’s confidence for him to be able to say, ‘Yeah, that’s in there.’ ”
Craig sacrificed contact to chase those additional home runs. His strikeout rate also climbed to a career high 23 percent, while his batting average slipped to .248—but players all across baseball are accepting that trade-off.
The Pirates are pleased to see the power—first basemen are expected to produce it—but they would like to see his average climb northward a bit. They saw good signs in the AFL, where he hit .304 with a .378 on-base percentage.
“I think the pendulum swung from being content with hits to really chasing the longball,” Broadway said. “I think there is going to be a swing back to the middle. He’ll realize he doesn’t have to sacrifice as much to generate that loft.”
Craig will most likely start the 2019 season at Triple-A Indianapolis, but he has a bit of a tough road to hoe to get to Pittsburgh. The Pirates have invested much in starter Josh Bell, who has 41 home runs in two-plus seasons, and have seen flashes from Jose Osuna behind him.
— The Pirates have been typically quiet in terms of player acquisitions, but they did add a pair of powerful 19-year-old righthanders who pitched in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2018. Tahnaj Thomas, a former third baseman from the Bahamas, struck out 61 batters in 58 innings before coming over from the Indians in a trade for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff. Yordi Rosario struck out 70 batters in 56 innings in the White Sox system before being acquired for Ivan Nova.
— Righthander Gage Hinsz had heart surgery in May and missed the entire 2018 season but was dominant in five starts with in the Puerto Rican League. He recorded a 1.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, striking out 23 and walking seven in 25 innings.