After all, most of the mock drafts had the Johnson City native heading to the New York Mets with the 19th pick in the first round. But after the Mets opted to use that pick to select Justin Dunn, a right-handed pitcher from Boston College, the Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in and snagged the hard-hitting Craig with the 22nd overall pick.
“I was definitely thinking New York Mets, because it has been linked so much,” Craig said. “But overall, I was trying to keep an open mind and not think too much about it. When (the Mets) passed on me, the next team I figured it would be was Pittsburgh at 22, and that’s who it was.”
It marked the second time that Craig has been selected in the MLB Draft. The 21-year-old was picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 37th round of the 2013 draft after a phenomenal career at Science Hill, but Craig opted to play collegiately at Wake Forest.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred threw everyone a bit of a curveball when he announced that the Pirates were selecting Craig as a pitcher. While the the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder has quite an arm, it was Craig’s bat that the Pirates were after.
“It was funny,” Craig said. “(The Pirates) actually texted me and told me ‘That was a mistake. You’re supposed to be a third baseman’ ”
Craig had a phenomenal three-year run at Wake Forest, developing into one of the top right-handed power hitters in college baseball. As a freshmen, Craig hit .280 with six doubles, eight homers and 36 RBIs, good enough to earn him the starting job at third base.
Craig’s breakout season came a year later when he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore, earning him first-team honors on a slew of All-American teams. Craig batted .382 in his second season with the Demon Deacons, racking up 13 home runs, 58 RBIs, 20 doubles and a .702 slugging percentage.
Right-handed power is in high demand at the big-league level, so Craig was besieged by pro scouts during his junior campaign at Wake Forest. Although Craig was an asset on the mound for his entire collegiate career with a fastball that consistently hit the low-90s, it was Craig’s work in the batter’s box that had the scouts salivating.
Despite sitting out a handful of games with an oblique injury, Craig performed at an All-American level once again as a junior, hitting .379 with 16 doubles, 16 homers, 66 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .731.
As a member of the Pirates organization, the possibility of Craig playing some baseball in the Tri-Cities for the Bristol Pirates is a tantalizing proposition for local fans.
“I might. You never know,” Craig said. “A lot of teams send college guys a little higher up, but you never know.”
No matter where Craig ends up, Thursday night marked a huge milestone in a baseball journey that started in Johnson City.
“It’s a great franchise,” Craig said of the Pirates. “I see myself playing third base for them, and where ever they send me, I’m going to try to play as well as I can and go through the system as fast as I can.”