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Pirates' Craig displays power stroke in AFL

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- After hitting just six home runs in his first full pro season in 2017, Will Craig made changes to his swing in hopes of producing more power. Those adjustments paid off throughout this year and again on Thursday afternoon, when Craig's three-run homer in the fifth provided the difference in the Surprise Saguaros' 5-4 defeat of the Mesa Solar Sox in Arizona Fall League action.

Gameday

MESA, Ariz. -- After hitting just six home runs in his first full pro season in 2017, Will Craig made changes to his swing in hopes of producing more power. Those adjustments paid off throughout this year and again on Thursday afternoon, when Craig's three-run homer in the fifth provided the difference in the Surprise Saguaros' 5-4 defeat of the Mesa Solar Sox in Arizona Fall League action.

Gameday

Craig got a fastball down in the zone from right-hander Jesus Castillo (Angels) and slammed it over the fence in left-center, snapping a 2-2 tie. It was his third AFL homer, tying him for fourth in the league.

The Pirates made Craig a first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2016, signing him out of Wake Forest for $2,253,700. Though he was one of the most productive hitters in college baseball, winning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year honors as a sophomore and challenging for the ACC triple crown in both 2015 and 2016, that success didn't immediately translate to pro ball.

Craig slugged just .368 in his first two years as a pro, which doesn't exactly fit the profile of a first baseman. Both he and the organization agreed that some changes were in order.

"For me, the big thing going into the season was trying to hit more fly balls than ground balls," Craig said. "I'm not going to be a speed guy who's going to try to beat out ground balls, so I'm trying to hit the ball in the air and do some damage. I didn't really do anything mechanically, just trying to use my legs more and try to get a little more lift on the ball and be more on time."

A right-handed hitter, Craig cut his groundout/flyout ratio from 1.2 in 2017 to 0.6 this year while leading the Double-A Eastern League with 102 RBIs and finishing third with 53 extra-base hits and sixth with 20 homers. He also produced career worsts in batting average (.248) and strikeout rate (23 percent), so he knows there's still work to be done.

"It does take a long time to get used to what you're trying to do," said Craig, who also singled in the ninth inning to improve his Fall League batting line to .264/.339/.472. "I'm still working on it every day. It's not going to be fixed in a few months, especially with a shorter offseason like this offseason right now. So I'm trying to work on everything day by day, and hopefully by next year I'll be good to go." 

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: #BlueJays No. 9 prospect Cavan Biggio blasts his second @MLBazFallLeague homer. He's hitting .435 (10-for-23) with 3 doubles, 2 homers & 6 RBIs since going 0-for-7 in his first two AFL games. Follow live: https://t.co/7EWxCHwykp pic.twitter.com/hXad9157Tp

DH Cavan Biggio (Blue Jays) supplied the rest of Surprise's offense with a two-run homer in the second inning, his second in the AFL after topping the Eastern League with 26. Reigning Fall League Pitcher of the Week Scott Blewett (Royals) earned his third victory, tying for the league lead, despite giving up three runs in four innings. The Saguaros improved to 8-12 and moved into second place in the West Division, where they trail the Peoria Javelinas by 5 1/2 games. 

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: White hot.@Athletics No. 18 prospect Eli White has 6 hits in his past 10 ABs, including this, his first dinger of the @MLBazFallLeague season. He's among the league leaders in hitting, currently at .372.Gameday: https://t.co/7EWxCHwykp pic.twitter.com/PEItrRJ5VM

Second baseman Jahmai Jones (Angels) had three hits for Mesa, which also got a two-run homer from shortstop Eli White (Athletics). The Solar Sox dropped to 9-11 and into last place in the East Division, three games behind the Salt River Rafters.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.