Cards Minors Player of the Year

Memphis' Allen Craig receives our annual award as the top player in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.

Being named the Memphis Player of the Year last week was not enough for Allen Craig. Earlier this week, he was named the Organizational Player of the Year by the St. Louis Cardinals. Now, I am happy to announce that Allen Craig is our Cardinal Nation Minor League Player of the Year.

After a strong showing in Spring Training, Craig was the anchor of a team that won the Pacific Coast League crown in 2009. Along the way, he led the organization's minor leaguers in most offensive categories.

The 25-year-old hit .322/.374/.547 with 26 home runs and 83 RBIs during the 2009 season. The former Golden Bear was especially tough against southpaws, posting a line of .348/.388/.667 with 12 home runs in 138 at bats.

Among the PCL leader board, Craig ranked fourth in batting average and hits, third in home runs and total bases, fifth in OPS, seventh in slugging, and ninth in RBIs.

During the Triple-A National Championship game, Craig reached base three times including hitting a two-run opposite home run in a losing effort.

The Cardinals drafted him in the eighth round in the 2006 MLB First Year Player Draft out of the University of California. In 1600 career minor league at bats, he has hit .306/.366/.513 with 76 home runs and 277 RBIs.

Recently, Allen was kind enough to talk about his season and his plans for the off-season.

Dustin Mattison: First, congratulations on your successful 2009 and being named the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year.

Allen Craig: Thank you. I'm honored to be the Player of the Year. It was a great year in so many ways. It's always great to be recognized for your accomplishments, I appreciate it.

DM: Was there any disappointment in not getting a September call up?

AC: Absolutely, there's no doubt that I was frustrated not to get the call, but I'm not going to dwell on it. I put in a lot of work in the off- season to prepare myself for the year, and I worked extremely hard during the season to put myself in a position where I'd be in the running for a call. Despite not getting a call to the big leagues I still consider this season a huge success. I had a great year individually and we won the PCL championship as a team. Do I feel like I earned a big league call up in September? Yes. Did I expect a big league call up? No. Getting a call to the big leagues is the greatest honor, and it is something that should never be expected. I understand that, and that is why I will continue work to build my resume and more importantly continue to earn the respect and trust of Tony and the front office. I will be a good baseball player next year too, so I'm not really worried about it.

DM: Did you understand the team's explanation?

AC: I understand both sides. It would have been a great personal experience to go up, but I understand the big team is concerned with the big team. I doubt they dislike me as a person, and I doubt they dislike me as a player so I'm sure they had valid reasons. I am sure they value me as player. They are a playoff team and had a good chance at the World Series, so they have earned the right to prepare for the post season any way that they want. If the Cardinals were terrible this season, and I still didn't get a call up, I'd probably ask some more questions.

DM: I understand that you are not playing winter ball. How did that decision come about?

AC: I had offers to go play but I declined. I had a good spring training and had a great regular season, and wanted to build off that for next year. Every off-season, I regroup physically and mentally and turn my focus to getting ready to make the best showing possible in spring training. I have a routine that I've done the last three years in the off-season and it has worked well for me. I didn't want to change things up while I'm knocking on the door to the big leagues.

DM: What are your off-season plans? What are you going to be working on?

AC: I'll be in the San Francisco bay area for half the time spending time with my girlfriend who goes to Berkeley, and then I'll be in my hometown, Temecula, from Thanksgiving up to spring training, spending time with my family. I don't really have much planned other than working out and preparing myself for the upcoming season. I'll try and get myself in the best shape possible and I'll continue to work on my game.

DM: You had an excellent spring training in 2009. Did you surprise yourself a little in that you hit .444? Is there anything in particular that you did to prepare yourself?

AC: I didn't expect to hit .444, but I'm not going to say I was surprised. I'm obviously not a .400 hitter but I have hit .400 for periods of time before in my career. I was just trying to make the most of my opportunities and make an impression on the coaches. I was more excited about hitting .444 in mostly a pinch hitter type role, which is something that can be tough and also something I've never really done. Outside of my off-season preparation, I just told myself to be aggressive in the at bats that I got.

DM: Did you have the opportunity to talk to Tony La Russa before you left big league camp? If so, what did he tell you?

AC: Not really, he just told me to clean out my locker and that I was going to minor league camp. I said thanks for the opportunity, and proceeded to minor league camp. It was uneventful.

DM: Can you compare your comfort levels at the various positions you have been playing in the field? Is there a position that you consider home?

AC: I take pride in the fact I can play different positions. I struggled at third base early in my career because it was a new position for me but I improved every year, and was becoming pretty good at third. I didn't get much of an opportunity to play there this year because we simply had too many good players at third base in the organization. I guess I was the odd man out. At this point in my career, I probably feel the most comfortable in left field. I played very well in left field this season and that is where I spent most of my time. I am comfortable at first base but that is irrelevant unless the best player in baseball gets injured.

DM: You got off to a slow start at Memphis and then really took off. What changed?

AC: There are always going to be ups and downs with hitting. I just needed to figure out why I was struggling and make the proper adjustments to get better. I simplified my approach and swing and just tried to trust my ability.

DM: Tell me what it means to you to be a member of the 2009 PCL Championship team.

AC: It was the greatest baseball experience of my life. Being a part of a championship team is something that you can't really understand until you experience it. Although everyone on the team was individually trying to get to the big leagues, we all came together and made it a team goal to not only make the playoffs but to win the PCL championship. The camaraderie on our team was outstanding. So many guys came to the team from different places during the year. Whether they came from high A, double A, the big leagues, a trade, free agency, or independent ball, we had it all on our team. The front door to the Memphis locker room was constantly opening and closing. However, everyone that came in to the locker room contributed to the overall success of the team. Celebrating like that with those teammates was an unforgettable experience.

DM: What are your goals for 2010?

AC: My main goal for 2010 is to earn a spot on the opening day roster for the big club.

DM: If you were not a baseball player, what would you be doing?

AC: I probably would have invented something and been a billionaire already. Seriously though, I don't really know. I'd probably be spending my time figuring out what I'm going to do. I imagine that I would try to be a part of baseball somehow, and if that didn't work out, something would come up that would be good for me.

DM: Tell me something that most Cardinal fans probably don't know about you but really should.

AC: I don't want to say anything corny here so I'll just leave you with this piece of irony. My rival high school was the Temecula Valley GOLDEN BEARS . After high school, I went to the University of California at Berkeley and became a GOLDEN BEAR. I quickly found out that my rival college was the Stanford CARDINALS. After college, I got drafted by the St. Louis CARDINALS, quickly to find out my new rival was the Chicago CUBS, of course, another type of BEAR. I just want Cardinal fans to know that I really want the irony to stop with the Cardinals. I would love nothing more than to compete against the BEAR Cubs once again.

I would like congratulate Allen on being named the 2009 Cardinal Nation Minor League Player of the Year.

Note: To follow our entire series of Players of the Year at each level of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, check back here at The Cardinal Nation daily. To see the roster of winners and article schedule, click here.

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