Bucs prospect Craig to play in Futures Game

Gonzalez begins rehab assignment; Cervelli rejoins Pirates

June 29th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates have seen a couple of their recent first-round Draft picks in the Majors this season. Cole Tucker (2014) showed promise during his brief stint with Pittsburgh, especially in the field, and Kevin Newman (2015) took over as their everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter. Another first-rounder will take center stage on All-Star Sunday in Cleveland.

First-base prospect Will Craig, the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 Draft, was named to the National League team for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which will take place on July 7 at Progressive Field. Craig is one of 24 former first-round picks on the rosters for this year’s Futures Game.

The Futures Game, now in its 21st year, is an annual showcase for some of the top talent in the Minors. For the first 20 years, the prospects were divided into two teams – the U.S. vs. the World – for nine innings. This year, the format has been changed to American League vs. National League in a seven-inning game. Four-time All-Star Dennis Martinez will manage the NL Futures Team while Hall of Famer Jim Thome leads the AL squad.

Craig, 24, took part in Major League Spring Training for the first time this year after hitting 20 homers and driving in 102 runs for Double-A Altoona last year. He entered Friday hitting .258/.338/.476 with 16 home runs, 12 doubles and 45 RBIs in 73 games for Triple-A Indianapolis this season.

“I’m happy for him, proud of him,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s another guy that continues to roll his sleeves up, go to the ballpark and get some things done in a very professional manner. He’s learning, using his eyes and his ears, finding a way to contribute. The reports have been solid and consistent as he’s spent his time in Triple-A.”

Craig, the Pirates’ No. 12 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has sacrificed some of his contact and on-base ability to be more of a power-hitting run producer, but the Pirates believe he’ll put it all together at the plate. Craig also took a big step forward defensively last season in Double-A. He was drafted as a third baseman but moved to first base full-time in 2017.

“Obviously a good power hitter. Knows his swing. Confident in it. Has a good approach,” Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings said. “Just really good at hitting the ball in the air and getting the barrel to it. Good defensive first baseman, too, which obviously I like as a catcher.”

Craig’s position is occupied at the next level, however, by likely All-Star Josh Bell. And Bell won’t be going anywhere for a few years, creating obvious questions about Craig’s future with the Bucs. He has worked in the outfield, even starting one game there, but that remains a work in progress.

“That’s just something he’s going to need to work on, just to continue to work to see if that’s actually something that he can pull off at this level,” Hurdle said.

Around the horn

• Infielder Erik Gonzalez (broken collarbone) began a rehab assignment on Friday with Indianapolis, batting second and starting at shortstop. Gonzalez has been sidelined since April 19, when he collided with Starling Marte in the outfield while chasing a popup.

Hurdle said Gonzalez will play shortstop, second and third base during his rehab assignment, which can last up to 20 days -- “another Spring Training,” Hurdle added, “which is needed for him right now.”

Gonzalez broke camp as the Bucs’ starting shortstop, but Newman has earned that spot with his impressive hitting and solid defense. That makes it more likely that Gonzalez, who is out of Minor League options, will return as a utility infielder.

• Catcher Francisco Cervelli (concussion) rejoined the Pirates on Friday and fielded ground balls at second and third base during batting practice. Cervelli, who is cleared to practice but still on the injured list, said last Sunday that he hoped to begin a rehab assignment by this weekend.

• Triple-A right-hander JT Brubaker, the Bucs’ No. 18 prospect, remains on the Minor League injured list due to right elbow inflammation after being recalled from a rehab assignment with Class A Short-Season West Virginia.

• The Pirates released infielder Nick Franklin, who was playing for Indianapolis. Franklin, 28, hit .193 with a .605 OPS in Triple-A this season.