By Trey Williams
The learning curve Will Craig acknowledges existing in professional baseball isn’t exactly throwing him for a loop.
The Science Hill alum, who was ACC player of the year at Wake Forest and drafted No. 22 overall last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates, started in the Florida State League All-Star game last week.
After hitting .280 in 2016 for the New York-Penn League’s West Virginia Black Bears, Craig is batting .289 (second on the team) for the Bradenton Marauders at the advanced-A level. He leads the team with 15 doubles and 65 hits and is second in home runs (five), RBIs (33) and OPS (.826). And the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder is hitting .412 (14-for-34) over his last 10 games.
“Obviously, hits are a little harder to come by now,” Craig said Monday. “Every level you go up hits are a little bit harder to get as the game gets a little bit faster. But, pretty much, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m just trying to make solid contact more consistently now and hopefully I get back to kind of the performances I was putting on at Science Hill and at Wake.”
Craig’s fiancé, former Science Hill shooting guard Morgan Knack, attended the FSL All-Star game. So did her brother Landon, a former Science Hill baseball standout now at Walters State, and their mother Terry.
“It was a really cool experience,” said Craig, whose parents Brad and Kim also visited earlier last week.
Craig has made the move to first base after playing third base last season.
“It’s definitely been pretty painless,” he said. “At first I was kind of against it, but as we kind of went further into Spring Training and stuff I was like, ‘As long as I can go out there and swing the bat well I don’t really care where I play. You can put me anywhere.’ I just wanna go up there and get my hacks in and help my team as much as possible.”
Craig has already hit major-league pitching.
“I’ve faced some big-leaguers – Jeff Locke, who’s with the Marlins right now,” he said, “and Seth Lugo, who’s with the Mets. He actually threw in the World Baseball Classic. He was doing rehab.
“I’ve faced both of them and there’s a reason they’re big-leaguers. They threw really well against us.”
Craig singled against Locke and doubled off Lugo.
Home runs haven’t accumulated the way they did in high school and college. Craig hit two in 218 at-bats last season for West Virginia. Of course, his five home runs are second among Marauders.
“Here in this league the ball doesn’t travel very well,” he said. “We’re basically playing in a major-league park and we’re using minor-league balls. Major-league balls fly a little bit better than minor-league balls. So it’s a little bit harder to hit ‘em out.
“I’ve been very close. I have five home runs and I’m probably about 20 feet away from having nine or 10.”
The constant heat and humidity of Florida takes its toll. But Craig is better built for the long haul in his second season after adding muscle and losing weight in the offseason.
“It wasn’t anything drastic, just kind of basics, you know, trying to cut out some sweets,” he said. “I’ve gotta prepare myself for this 90-degree weather and a hundred percent humidity every day.”
Craig approaches the one-year anniversary of his start in pro ball more confident than ever.
“Early on in the season I was talking to our guys and just trying to figure stuff out, because I came in doing one thing and it kind of wasn’t working,” he said. “I was kind of like, ‘What do I need to do?’ … The adjustments I’ve made from that point (over the past 70 days) have been really good. … I think they’ve been really happy with the progress I’ve made.”