MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Before Allen Craig even had the chance to speak for himself Saturday at the Red Sox’s Baseball Winter Weekend event, his teammate Joe Kelly put the word out on what to expect from him in 2015 to a group of reporters.
“He’s going to be awesome,” Kelly said. “He carried our team -- the [St. Louis] Cardinals -- for multiple years. He was the best hitter on our team, hands down. We had Matt Hollidays, we had Lance Berkmans. But check out any playoff games, any stats, the guy was our best player, 100 percent.
“I’ve seen him in the offseason. We live 40 miles away from each other and I’ve seen him a couple times. Him being healthy, he’s grinding, he’s hitting. It’s definitely going to be fun to watch, and I hope that he gets the amount of playing time that he deserves because he’s going to come up here and dominate.”
No doubt a high expectation to live up to. But when Craig got his say hours later, he spoke with confidence about how good he feels now compared with what he was in his stint with the Red Sox after being traded to the team by the Cardinals at the July 31 deadline.
“I can’t reiterate enough that I feel really good physically,” Craig said. “I’ve had time to lift and just get ready physically and work on some things mechanically and this and that. It’s been good.”
The side of Craig that Red Sox fans are unfamiliar with is the one Kelly spoke of. As a full-time starter with the Cardinals, Craig earned National League MVP votes in 2012 and 2013. He was considered among the most dangerous hitters in the game, especially with runners in scoring position, where he hit a robust .454 in 130 at-bats in 2013.
Then came a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in September of 2013 that completely derailed Craig. He returned to face the Red Sox in the World Series, but still dealt with the pain. Opting to let it heal naturally, he struggled at the plate last season, hitting .237 in 97 games with the Cardinals. After the trade to Boston, it only got worse -- a .128 average in 29 games.
“My foot injury definitely impacted my preparation for last year,” Craig said. “My foot felt good obviously for the majority of the season. I think it just impacted some leg strength and this and that. You can talk about it all day but the bottom line is I’ve had time this offseason to feel good and get stronger and actually build toward something for this season.”
One problem: As of now Craig is a man without a starting position on this year’s Red Sox. With Mike Napoli manning first, David Ortiz at designated hitter and an already crowded outfield, where Craig fits in remains to be determined. The team has spoken to him about seeing time at third base -- a position he played in the minors -- but even then Craig falls behind Pablo Sandoval on the team’s depth chart.
Craig isn’t worried about it, however. He feels it will all take care of itself. He took the first month of his offseason off to clear his head, spending time with his wife, Marie, and daughter, Eden. He hasn’t paid attention to any trade rumors that have surrounded him this offseason. And he knows when the Red Sox traded for him, they traded for the everyday player he once was. The player he knows he’s capable of being again.
The player that Kelly speaks so highly about.
“He’s definitely motivated and I can see the drive,” Kelly said. “He’s not nicknamed ‘The Baseball-Whacker Guy’ for nothing. He’s going to go out there and hit some balls hard off that wall.
“It’s going to be fun watching him come out and he’s going to start whacking and people are going to be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he could do that.’ Well, he can do it.”