All Star Futures Game Baseball

Will Craig, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, hits during the MLB All-Star Futures baseball game on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Cleveland.

Will Craig did not make his big-league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019, but many folks are predicting that it won’t be long before the former Science Hill High School star is doing major things in Major League Baseball.

“I think he will excite some Pirates fans in the near future with some home run balls,” said Geoff Hartlieb, a Pittsburgh pitcher and a teammate of Craig’s in the minor leagues.

The 24-year-old Craig hit .249 with 23 home runs and 78 RBIs this season for the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians, but his numbers took a hit due to a midseason slump.

“He got off to a solid start,” said Indianapolis hitting coach Ryan Long. “The league adjusted a little bit so he had to learn how to adjust back.”

Still, Craig’s 78 RBIs were tied for sixth in the International League and his 23 longballs were the most by an Indianapolis player since Graham Koonce (who once played for the Appalachian League’s Bristol Tigers) went yard 23 times in 2005.

“The raw power is real,” said Drew Saylor, Pittsburgh’s minor league assistant hitting coordinator. “You can tell whenever he’s hitting, because it’s a different sound off his bat. He also is a very curious player. He studies hitting and is continually seeking knowledge. I feel that helps him with how pitchers sequence his at-bats.”

Craig has always had a sweet swing dating back to his days at Science Hill and a cerebral approach to go with it.

“I would say one of the biggest things he brings to the table is his understanding of hitting – the mechanics of it and how to attack the baseball,” Hartlieb said.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound slugger wasn’t among those promoted from Indy when rosters expanded in September, however.

“I was pretty bummed about it, but I have no regrets with anything and I know moving forward what I need to do to get better,” Craig said. “So that’s my focus.”

The biggest conundrum concerning Craig is what position he will play for the Pirates.

He began his professional career at third base before shifting across the diamond to first base.

That has created a logjam at the position since All-Star Josh Bell currently mans first in Pittsburgh.

Craig did play 13 games in right field this season for Indianapolis.

“He is a fundamentally sound first baseman and has begun to find his way in right field as well,” Hartlieb said. “There is still some learning to do for sure, but he has run down a few balls that have impressed me and I’m sure he will only get better because he cares about both sides of the game.”

Craig participated in the MLB All-Star Futures Game in July and was hit by pitches in both of his plate appearances. It was another highlight in a season that was vital in his development as a prospect.

Taking the next step would take him through the doors of a big-league clubhouse.

“The most important part of this game is being consistent on and off the field and always staying in the present,” Craig said. “I thought the season went well overall. Some ups and downs like every season, but overall it was a productive season.”

thayes@bristolnews.com| Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-2570

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