Name: Will Craig
HT/WT: 6'3''/ 235
Will Craig is very much a production over projection player. A junior at Wake Forest, Craig has dominated in college, posting a 1.198 OPS his sophomore season and beginning his 2016 season with eight home runs in 72 plate appearances. Yet, as he pounds baseballs all over the park utilizing his 6’3’’ frame, Craig remains a prospect ranked near the bottom of the first round. (I should note that this analysis will focus on Craig’s potential as a position player, although he is a two-way player.)
As we often see, results do not overwhelm projection in the MLB draft and, for Craig, his college outcomes haven’t pushed his profile very high. Scout MLB Draft expert Jeff Ellis said that Will Craig is, in his mind, the most complete hitter in this class, and I certainly agree.
The profile comes with substantial risk, however. This is because first-basemen are typically pretty limited in potential carrying tools. What I mean by that is that the defensive impact of a first baseman is so limited, that being an elite defender cannot carry a profile. Furthermore, if you have the athleticism to steal bases, you likely are not going to be playing first base. Which means that in order to produce at first base and offer value, your bat simply has to be better than league average. Additionally, to be an impact player, your bat has to be substantially better than league average. In this way, the margins for first-basemen are a lot thinner than other positions, where defense and speed have a larger impact on a player’s value.
Now, let’s get back to Craig. The team taking him has to believe that his bat is special, or else there is little upside to such a pick. Which leaves us to determine whether it could be special. First, the body isn’t great. His athleticism is, in some ways, concerning, and I would really like to see him more sculpted, even if speed is irrelevant to his profile.
When I look at offense, I like to look at three buckets -- plate discipline, contact frequency and contact quality. In every category, Craig is outstanding.
The most important of these buckets that we can use information to evaluate is contact frequency. Strikeout percentage is useful data (especially for college players) and, in 2015, Craig posted a K% of 10%. For someone who shows significant in-game power, this sort of K% is hugely intriguing and signals a contact frequency (as well as plate discipline) that is a huge asset.
Furthermore, Craig consistently walks more than he strikes out and posts a significantly above-average walk rate. Finally, BABIP is a proxy for contact quality and Craig grades out above average there, as well.
For the three buckets of offense, Craig grades out really well. The contact frequency/contact quality pairing in particular are persuasive of his potential upside. When visually scouting Craig, I was very impressed with his ability to barrel the ball to the opposite field with authority. At times, we can see college players who are particularly adept at just relying on their pull side to inflate numbers, especially in wonky parks. However, Craig shows a good ability to hit the ball with authority the other way, which is immensely valuable.
Craig’s load and discharge are nice and he avoids wrapping the bat, which is positive, and likely a reason why his contact abilities are so strong.
In the mid-to-late first round, Craig is a bargain. He offers outstanding offensive upside with a hit tool that grades at 60 and power that grades in that same range. First basemen have thin margins, because of reliance on offense, but Craig is a good bet to succeed.
Follow Mike on Twitter at: @snarkyhatmannull