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Ex-Hilltoppers star Craig preparing for next step

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 17, 2020 at 3:30 PM

Like the rest of America, right now there are more questions than answers for Will Craig and the rest of professional baseball.

A week ago, Craig was with the Pittsburgh Pirates at spring training. Now, the former Science Hill star is back home in Nashville and preparing for whatever the next step turns out to be in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone is in the same boat. We don’t know if we will start back up a month from now or two months from now,” he said. “We don’t know the schedule, the games, but I will take the next month, two months, whatever it may be getting ready for a second spring training or games.”

Craig said half of the Pirates’ roster was staying at the team’s facilities in Florida to train. He opted to return home and train at a nearby facility owned by his agency.

“I’m able to work out there whenever I want. It’s a controlled environment and you only have a select number of guys,” he said. “Obviously, the goal is to keep everyone healthy and the virus away.”

The 25-year-old is a healthy 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds after losing some weight to play in the outfield. He earned Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year honors while playing third base and pitching at Wake Forest.

The 22nd overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft, he has spent most of his career at first base. However, the Pirates have all-star Josh Bell at first, so Craig has been playing in both left field and right field.

“Since we have Josh Bell at first base in the major leagues, I’m trying to make myself as diverse as possible,” Craig noted. “I’m playing many positions so I can prove that I can be helpful at other positions.

“In the outfield, you see the game from a different perspective. You’re not 90 or 100 feet away from the ball. It’s a different thought process, but it’s something that I really enjoy.”

Two days before spring training was halted, Craig got the news he would be optioned back to Class AAA Indianapolis for the start of the season. He hit 43 home runs his past two seasons in the minors and finished 2019 with a .249 batting average and 23 home runs.

While he had dreams of making his big league debut in a few weeks after being added to the Pirates’ 40-man roster in November, he’s glad to go back in a familiar place.

“My goal is to play in the major leagues. Going to back to Indianapolis, it could be a lot worse, like going home or not with a team,” Craig said. “To be in Triple-A and not in a lower level and to be in a big city, it’s not bad. But I want to be in the major leagues.”

He got a sampling of the majors by appearing in 15 spring training games. His 22 at-bats included a home run and two doubles. The team encouraged him to keep broadening his spectrum as a player.

“I was able to play some games and show them what I can do,” he said. “They told me early in the spring training to get my reps and make myself uncomfortable by doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I had some good games, some up and down games, but overall a solid spring training before it was halted.”