For the next two weeks, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round of next Thursday's draft. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
First up is Wake Forest third baseman Will Craig, who was named ACC Player of the Year in 2015 and posted a monster junior season this year, hitting .392 with 16 home runs and 65 RBI in 52 games. Craig, a native of Johnson City, Tenn., was also a solid reliever for the Demon Deacons, posting a 2.42 ERA in 26 relief innings. For more on Craig, check out Minor League Ball's scouting report.
Craig, a 6-foot-3, 235 lb. junior, is projected as mid-to-late first-rounder, recently being projected by both Baseball America and MLB.com as the 19th overall pick. He spoke at length with MLBDD this week:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realized you loved playing the game?
"I was probably 3 or 4 years old. I would wait for my dad to come home from work so he could play ball with me. That's how it started, and I pretty much fell in love with it. Ever since, I've played baseball nonstop."
Growing up, did you have a favorite team? Favorite player?
"Growing up in Tennessee, my team was the Atlanta Braves. I was a huge Chipper Jones fan. I watched him all the time. If you were a big Braves fan, you were a huge Chipper Jones fan."
When was the moment that going pro was possible and that this could possibly be a long career at the highest level?
"I'd probably say it was high school. I was always a pretty good ballplayer for my age and I've always done pretty well. Once I got into my high school career, I was being looked as a senior by some teams for the draft and realized that it was possibly something I could do for a living. Once I got to school [at Wake Forest], my big thing was to make myself the best player I could be. If that meant pitching or hitting mostly, either would be fine. I ended up being a hitter mostly who pitches sometimes, so that was big for me. Playing the game everyday really made my choice easy."
You were drafted in the 37th round by the Royals three years ago. What went into your decision to go to school and not pursue a pro career at that point?
"The biggest thing was obviously the round I got drafted; it was kind of late. The money wasn't where I wanted it to be. I don't want to say baseball is all about money, but at that point in time it kind of is. When I talked to our head coach [at Wake], Tom Walter, he was saying how he understands how I would want to sign if it was my dream to play professional baseball and make it to the major leagues. As my future coach, telling me I could either become a Demon Deacon or go pursue my dreams and he wouldn't hold anything back or try to force me to go to school, I realized I could play for him and he would help me further my career and give me a better shot in the next few years."
Why did you choose Wake Forest instead of other schools pursuing you in high school? What has your experience been like in Winston-Salem?
"It was Wake mostly because they were the biggest school that offered me. I only had three offers out of high school: Wake, Georgia Southern and Sanford. Those schools mostly wanted me as a pitcher but Wake told me I could hit and pitch. Getting an opportunity here to do that has been a blessing, so I've tried to make the most of it and make the most of the scholarship they offered me. I came in and wanted to earn it, I didn't want to go through the motions. I pushed myself. Ever since then, it has been an honor to wear Wake Forest across my chest and having that has been a blessing. I wouldn't change anything."
The state of North Carolina is a college baseball factory, and the ACC is an extremely competitive conference. What has it been like to play in that environment, with such a competitive atmosphere?
"It's great. [The ACC] and the SEC are some of the best conferences in the world. When I first got here my freshman year, going to other schools and seeing the atmospheres was amazing and eye-opening. I couldn't wait to get back to those places. Playing at UNC freshman year, the kind of atmosphere they have there is awesome. There, Florida State and Clemson... you can't make that stuff up and you can't describe the people. That's one thing I've been really thankful I've been able to do."
What would you say your biggest strength is as a player?
"Probably hitting. Hitting makes me who I am. Obviously, I'm not as athletic as some kids out there. I think I'm more athletic than some people give me credit for. I've always played with a chip on my shoulder. As I said earlier, I only got three offers out of high school and have played with a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong. Even when I'm doing well, people still seem to criticize me for certain things. The chip on my shoulder will always be there. Everyone has critics, people saying they're not good enough or they're not good at this or that. I take that to heart and make it to where I want to work harder and become a better player."
What do you think is your biggest weakness? You said you think you're more athletic than some critics say...
"My biggest weakness is probably fielding. I'm not a speed guy. I know how to use my speed properly. I've used my lessened speed to have a higher baseball IQ. I try to be in the right position at the right time so I don't have to rely on quickness and what not. I would probably say it's hard to judge athleticism just from playing baseball. Some guys are just more fluid doing it. Being a hitter and a pitcher shows that I'm actually more athletic than people give me credit for. Doing both for my whole career shows that."
Do you expect to pitch at the next level?
"I think I'll just be a corner infielder. Obviously, if a team thinks I'm a better pitcher, things happen. Obviously, I'll hit. Right now, hitting is my forte so that's what I'll stick with."
Do you think third base is the answer long-term? Is a permanent move to first base in the cards?
"I personally think, long-term, that third base is very possible. There are some guys in the majors that are really good players, maybe not the most athletic or gifted players to ever play the game. They're playing third base really well and I think I could be one of those too. Obviously, I'm not going to be a Manny Machado...but no one can do what he does. There are other guys, bigger third basemen and I think I can be one of them. If a team thinks the best for me is first base then I'll accept it. Until they tell me I can't play third base anymore, I'm going to play it the best I can."
How has pitching influenced your overall game? Do you think you have an overall better understanding of the pitcher-hitter battle than other guys?
"I definitely think so. I think pitching has given me a different side of hitting. It helps me understand what pitchers want to throw in different situations. I think of as a pitcher what I would want to do in certain spots. It actually makes it a little tougher too, I haven't focused as much on pitching as hitting in these last two years but it's a big thing in how I prepare myself. I'm limited in certain lifts I can do, and can only do certain throwing programs. It has its pros and cons but I'd say it's more of a benefit than anything, giving me a different mentality in the box."
You've been one of the big power guys in the ACC in the last couple of years...where do you think power comes from? Is it innate, and based on body type? Or can it really be learned at a higher level of the game?
"I think it's a little bit of both. Obviously there are guys who aren't that big who have a lot of power, then there are guys who are really big and don't have that power. For me, personally, I've always been a guy who has hit a lot of home runs. As I've gotten older and bigger and stronger, doubles are turning into home runs. Balls that have normally been doubles have become home runs. It has a lot to do with your growth and a lot of it is natural physical ability."
With that power swing, some guys strike out a lot and don't have high on-base numbers. Scouts praise your plate discipline and on-base percentage (.496 this season). How important is it to be a complete hitter, combining contact and power?
"That's one of the big things I pride myself on, not striking out. I've actually struck out more this year (33 Ks in 171 at-bats) than I have in a long time. I would say I was trying to do too much with pitches I should lay off instead of trying to be the hero. Plate discipline is a big key to my game; it helps me as a hitter to hit doubles and home runs. I swing at pitches I think I can hit. I'm not going to swing at pitches I don't think I can drive into the gap or out of the ballpark. It's big for me to sit on pitches and be able to see pitches really well. That's a big key to hitting for me. I do as much as I can to strengthen my hand-eye coordination as much as I can. Plate discipline is huge."
What is your expectation for where you're picked next week? Are there specific teams who have a lot of interest at this point?
"I've talked to a few teams, including both New York teams. I have no expectations specifically set for me. I have no idea where I'm going to land in the draft. It's just one of those things. Obviously I want to go first round, but sometimes it doesn't work out this way. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'll just have to talk it over with my family. Right now, my main goal is helping get my team to a Super Regional. We made the Regional for the first time in 9 or 10 years, so that's my main focus right now. I'm trying to make myself the best player for the next few days."