PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Mike Napoli being traded to the Texas Rangers, there is a hole at first base the Boston Red Sox must fill for the rest of this year as well as going forward. With a thin class of free agents at the position, the organization will likely have to fill that role from within.
So far Travis Shaw has done tremendous in his brief time with Boston, continuing hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. He was not a heralded prospect, but the 25-year old has certainly done enough to earn an extended look. The team also has Brock Holt who can play anywhere on the diamond and could move there once Dustin Pedroia returns. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval don’t play first, but it is seemingly only a matter of time before the organization is forced to move one of them there.
Then there is 31-year old Allen Craig. It feels more like two decades ago rather than two years ago Craig was a National League All-Star. His 2013 season was the best of his career, as he posted a .297 average with 97 runs batted in and a remarkable .454 average with runners in scoring position (the third highest ever behind George Brett and Tony Gwynn).
His last two seasons haven’t gone as expected to say the least and his career hit a low when he was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this year. Boston even outrighted him off the 40-man roster seemingly in hopes someone would claim the rest of his $26.5 million contract.
Now, his name has come up as a replacement for Napoli and General Manager Ben Cherington has said Craig will eventually get another chance. This would require him being put back on the 40-man roster, but is this the right move?
Craig has not hit for power and has not had much luck driving in runs. Hitting the middle of the PawSox order, he has just 20 RBIs on 11 extra base hits and a .197 average with RISP. This is a far cry from his 2013 numbers and a far cry from what he is capable of.
“We’ve seen glimpses of it,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Craig’s power. “He’s aware of it and is working hard in terms of going through video analysis, work in the cage and going back to some things that have worked for him in the past. We are going to see some impact here eventually and we are looking forward to that.”
Despite poor power numbers, Craig is still finding ways to get on base. He is second on the team in walks while posting a solid .274 average. It’s the solid numbers in other places along with the hard work of Craig that lead Boles not to be concerned.
“We are looking for the power but as far as it being a concern, no its not,” he said. “We are looking for quality at bats. We want high frequency of contact and barrel manipulation.”
Craig recently had a 17-game on base streak and is hitting much better over the past few weeks. He has not been afraid to use the opposite field, as two of the three home runs he has this year have gone that way. For him, he said that is just getting back to the old Allen Craig.
“I’m working playing the game and taking my at bats like I always do,” Craig said. “Typically I’ve hit the ball really hard to right field in my career. I’ve done that recently so that’s a good thing.”
If he is to get a chance to play in Boston, he will probably need to show a little bit more power than he has so far. However, his opposite field approach and ability to get on base present a strong case for his eventual return to the majors.