Craig was named to the mid-season Southern League All-Star Game for his efforts with Double-A Tennessee previously this season.
It was his third All-Star selection in six seasons and having held down a career .281 batting average since being drafted, one could not blame the versatile infielder if he was starting to wonder when the Cubs might finally recognize his contributions and put him at a level above Double-A.
Craig insists he wasn’t worried ... this time.
“I’d say a couple of years ago, it weighed too much on my mind,” he admitted. “It drove me ... not crazy, but it took me away from focusing on what I need to do to play and how I need to perform.”
Craig’s performance in Double-A this season was almost unmatched. His .326 batting average in 87 games placed second in the league at the time of his promotion, just three points shy of Jacksonville’s Chin-Lung Hu.
The Cubs’ prospect left Double-A with a .404 batting average in 16 games in July, and to date he has amassed a career-best .416 on-base percentage for the season. He was promoted to Triple-A on Thursday.
When asked if he thought his efforts had been largely ignored over the years, Craig said, “I know the coaches in this organization like the way I play and what I can do. For me, that’s good enough.”
One coach in particular who liked Craig’s play was Tennessee manager Pat Listach. Craig led Smokies hitters with 40 walks and a .514 slugging percentage at the time he was promoted. He hit 10 home runs with 44 RBIs.
“I learned from Bobby Dickerson and Von Joshua my first year in Double-A to just go out and compete and beat the pitcher,” Craig says. “You might not get a hit, but you might square a ball up and hit it hard. If you do that, you’re going to have success and your numbers will be good. That’s all you ask for. Once you make contact, you can’t do anything about it afterward. But you can control how you prepare and how you compete.”
That approach was good enough for Listach.
“These guys at this level, their approach always stays the same,” said Listach. “(Jake) Fox is a power guy. He’s going to hit some home runs. Matt Craig is the same guy. He’s a gap to gap guy that doesn’t have quite the power that Fox does, but he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. Those are two guys that have really done well.”
Fox was recently promoted from Tennessee to Chicago after leading the Double-A club with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. Like Craig, Fox had never played at a level above Double-A until only recently.
Both players have also flashed some versatility with the Cubs this season. Craig spent all of last season in Class A Daytona at first base, but has split fielding duties between first and third base this season.
He can also play shortstop and the outfield, and was slated to suit up behind the plate last year before the move was eventually scraped.
With Iowa now, Craig joins a crowded infield that features Micah Hoffpauir at first base and Scott Moore at the hot corner. Both of those players have seen reps in the outfield in their careers as well, meaning the three can accommodate each other for playing time.
“I figure if you can play infield, you can surely play outfield,” said Craig.
The fact that Craig is also a switch hitter strengthens his resume as well.
“How many switch hitters are out there in this system that can play first and third, and can hit for a good average and have some power,” Craig asks.
The answer: not very many.
“I think there’s just one actually,” Craig replies.