In a draft year that’s churning out a better college hitting crop than the industry expected before the season began, Wake Forest infielder Will Craig is another such college hitting prospect that’s making a strong case for a top-two-rounds selection.
I saw Craig this weekend when the Demon Deacons visited N.C. State for a three-game series that included a rare Monday night game, which aired on ESPNU. He’s a high follow mostly for his bat, and he’s done nothing but rake since he arrived in Winston-Salem. As of publication, he’s comically slashing .466/.581/.909, placing him inside the nation’s top five in all three categories. Perhaps then it’s no wonder that he surfaces as the ACC’s top draft-eligible batter in Carson Cistulli’s latest installment of top college players by (maybe) predictive stats.
The video below moves from batting practice to pre-game infield to game swings. For the sake of an evaluation, it helped that he was facing N.C. State left-hander Ryan Williamson, a solid pro prospect who gets his own video and bullet point further down. Both videos also feature receiving demonstrations by N.C. State catcher Andrew Knizner, another solid prospect who gets mentioned in this space.
Craig looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-3, 235-pound constitution, a big-bodied frame that has reached its full development. His natural strength is concealed by a soft, thick build that’s supported by a pair of tree trunks. He also has unexpected rotational athleticism for such a big dude, which is more apparent when he’s pitching than when he’s doing anything else. Ideally, his pro training regimen trims 10-15 pounds and replaces the void with muscle. Craig was drafted by the Royals in the 37th round of the 2013 draft out of Science Hill HS (Tenn.), where he teamed with Tigers lefty Daniel Norris.
Craig’s statistical exploits with a metal bat were introduced earlier in this post, but it should also be mentioned that he was challenged with a wooden bat in the summers of 2014 and 2015 when he played in the Cape Cod League. Still, he’s got some hitting tools that give him a chance to meet the offensive standard of his likely defensive destination.
In batting practice, Craig’s first couple of turns through the cage are kind of lethargic before he cuts it loose, and that’s when you see flashes of above-average raw power. He makes a point to work all fields, but the balls he drove with the most authority were to his pull side. In game action, there are some good things happening above the belt. His swing gets a bit shorter – particularly so with two strikes against him, which is the situation he finds himself in at the 1:45 mark. (One strike from earlier in the AB was edited out.) He’s also got decent hands, pretty good bat speed and a nice feel for the barrel that produce line drives with medium extension.
His offensive potential, though, is currently limited by what happens below the waistline. Depicted above is a mid-swing shot in which Craig is twisting his back leg instead of driving with it, leaving some power on the table as a result. His lower-half movements are pretty stiff in general, and it takes him visibly more effort to barrel something in the lower third. In my look, he was only offering at pitches at the belt or higher; anything below the belt was greeted with a check swing or a full swing that looked like something in which he participated unwillingly. As a pro, I see him being a mistake-pitch hitter who will have trouble with any moving fastball or quality breaking pitch that competes lower in the zone.
Craig plays third base for the Demon Deacons, but he doesn’t move well enough laterally to stay at the position and will have to either shift across the diamond to first base or possibly an outfield corner, where at least then his plus arm strength wouldn’t go to waste. He also serves as the team’s closer and made an appearance in the second game of the series on Saturday, sitting 90-92 with a decent mid-70s breaking ball, and he’s got enough feel that you could consider pitching as a fallback option. He’s a below-average runner.
Level, unexcitable demeanor, but not distant. Engaged in pre-game warmups, confident in games. Enjoys being on the field, but looks bored with the competition at times. Scout’s take: “He’s way above this level of baseball.”
Craig is a risky bet because all of his prospect value is tied to his bat, and if he doesn’t hit enough to justify an everyday role as a first baseman or DH, then recouping value forces an organizational compromise. At that point, you’re basically choosing between him providing right-handed power hitting depth as a quad-A player or moving him to the mound, where he has decidedly less potential as a reliever. I can see him going inside the top two rounds, but he’ll come with a lower floor than most other hitting prospects picked in that territory who can advance on other redeeming tools or positional rarity.
Raw power: 55/60
Game power: 50*
*Hit and game power grades are on future basis.
Other high follows from this series:
- A solid defender who projects to 55 raw power, N.C. State catcher Andrew Knizner is one of the best catching prospects in this year’s class. He has good hands and enough athleticism to block pitches that stray in either direction, and his above-average arm strength produces sub-2.0 pop times. His swing is late to the zone, though he has good bat speed that helps him sting hard liners when the timing’s right. He’s a top-three-rounds talent with a backup catcher’s profile.
- N.C. State left-hander Ryan Williamson was sensational on Monday night in a televised start on ESPNU, throwing six no-hit innings before Will Craig broke up the bid with a single in the top of the seventh. Through the fourth inning, he sat 88-90 mph and touched 91, spinning a 79-82 breaking ball that held a three-quarters shape at lower velocities and began tilting more like a slider at higher speeds. There’s a lot to like here, as he’s got a physical 6-foot-3, 225-pound build, throws with minimal effort, and has a feel for offspeed with decent command. He’s a target after the fourth round.
- Sophomore right-hander Tommy DeJuneas serves as N.C. State’s closer and will be a top-three-rounds candidate as a high-leverage reliever for the 2017 draft. He peaked at 94 mph on Monday night, but I’ve seen him settle into the mid-90s and touch 97 in short stints with cartoonish cut and run. He’s also got a hard high-80s slider, his feel of which comes and goes.