By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – When Curve first baseman Will Craig was a high school player in Johnson City, Tenn., some pro teams saw his baseball future as a pitcher.
In fact, the Kansas City Royals selected the Science Hill (Tenn.) High School standout in the 37th round of 2013 MLB Draft.
But Wake Forest University offered him an opportunity to hit first and pitch second and he took it. Turned out to be a good decision.
“I knew I could hit pretty well,” Craig said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field, “and when Wake offered me that, I jumped at it.”
Three years later in 2016, after an All-American career at Wake, Craig was selected in the first round (22nd overall) of the MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I was a third baseman and pitcher in high school,” Craig recalled. “Kids from Johnson City are overlooked a lot. There are usually two or three top guys and that’s it, so the Wake offer was big.”
He batted .280 with eight homers and 36 RBI as a freshman and posted a 4.05 ERA in seven pitching appearances.
“I played third base my first year and was moved to first base my second year to save my arm,” he noted.
As a sophomore, Craig led the Demon Deacons in average (.382), homers (13), RBIs (58) and most other offensive categories and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player-of-the-Year. He made 15 pitching appearances, posted a 3-4 record and 6.09 ERA.
He was named a first team All-American as a junior when he started 55 games and batted a team best .379 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs, ranking in the top 50 in the nation in many categories. He pitched out of the bullpen as a junior, went 2-0 with nine saves and a 3.54 ERA.
Craig was named aational player-of-the-year by DI Baseball and became Wake’s first-ever first-round draft pick. His pitching career also came to an end when the Pirates picked and signed him.
“I don’t even sniff the mound anymore,” he said, laughing.
Craig spent his first pro season with the short-season West Virginia Black Bears where he played third base and batted .280 in 63 games. He was promoted to Bradenton (high-A) in 2017 where he batted .271 in 123 games. He was named to the Florida State League’s mid-season all-stars as a first baseman.
“Bradenton’s third baseman was Ke ‘Bryan Hayes and he’s pretty good,” Craig said.
Hayes is the Curve third baseman this season while Craig is refining his skills at first base and becoming one of the Eastern League’s top power hitters. As of mid-June, Craig led the Curve in homers and RBIs and was the first Pirates farm hand to reach double digits in homers.
“I’m putting the ball in the air more consistently, but I’m not trying to force it,” Craig said of his improved power numbers.
Curve manager Michael Ryan credited Craig’s “maturity and plan at the plate” for his improvement.
“He’s a big guy (6-2, 233) and he’s learned to hit the breaking ball as well as the fastball out of the park,” Ryan said. “Defensively, he’s doing fine. He has good hands and has good arm strength since he was a pitcher.
“He’s going to be fine.”
Craig’s advice to young players with an eye on pro ball: “Play every day like it’s your last because you never know,” he said. “Have fun and make memories and friends. Start every day with a smile. I try, but it’s hard sometime.”