FORT MYERS, Fla. — Allen Craig already has a leg up on last year.
While Craig arrived at spring training Sunday with uncertainty surrounding his role with the Boston Red Sox, the veteran slugger expressed optimism regarding the upcoming season. Craig is coming off a healthy and productive offseason, unlike last year, which could help him bounce back from a dismal 2014.
“It was night and day,” said Craig, who battled a foot injury in 2013 that lingered last offseason. “I had a little bit of time. I went into (this) offseason with a pretty good plan of what I wanted to do as far as physically getting ready for the season, mechanically working on some things. It was a really productive offseason. I’m just looking forward to getting here and playing games.”
Craig isn’t just healthy. He’s motivated. The Red Sox have a surplus of outfielders, most of whom appear to be ahead of Craig on Boston’s depth chart, yet the 30-year-old has no doubt he can return to being the player who earned a National League All-Star selection with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
“Absolutely,” Craig said when asked if he has something to prove this spring. “I have something to prove every spring training, but I feel like this spring training is extra important for me to go out and prove myself and just get ready for a really good season.”
Of course, Craig’s overall impact could be predicated on just how much playing time he receives amid the Red Sox’s roster crunch. Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts and Daniel Nava all are vying for roles in Boston’s outfield, with Ramirez and Victorino already having inside tracks on starting gigs.
Craig never has played more than 134 games in a season, but he was one of Major League Baseball’s best run producers before stumbling out of the gate in 2014 and eventually landing in Boston at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. It’s something that isn’t lost on Red Sox manager John Farrell.
“I would think that he was trying to play catch-up throughout the course of the entire (2014) season,” Farrell said, alluding to Craig’s foot injury. “As things weren’t working out with him from a performance standpoint, whether it was in St. Louis or here, he was trying to battle back and the confidence comes and goes.
“Just talking to him, there’s a completely different feel to the conversation because of the offseason he’s had and the work he’s put in.”
Craig sounds like someone who’s out to show he belongs in the lineup every day. It’s a stretch to think he’ll be afforded that opportunity, at least to begin the season, if he remains with Boston, but he is preparing as if he’ll be a staple in Farrell’s starting nine.
“I believe that I’m an everyday player, but I’m here to compete and be a good teammate, and just play the game, like I said, whenever my name is in the lineup card,” Craig said. “That’s all I can do. I know I have a lot to prove. I’m looking forward to doing it.”
Farrell expects Craig to garner time at first base, left field and right field this spring. The team’s primary focus, however, is on Craig receiving a suitable number of at-bats before breaking camp. As Farrell put it, things will work themselves out from a defensive standpoint as far as where Craig fits.
It’s reasonable to wonder whether the Red Sox could explore trading Craig, who has three years remaining on his contract plus a club option for 2018. Yet the thought of being traded for the second time in months seemingly is the furthest thing from Craig’s mind. Now that he’s healthy, Craig simply is embracing the challenge of proving himself with the deck stacked against him.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Craig said of wanting to stay with the Red Sox. “You look around this clubhouse, and you’ve got guys that have accomplished a lot of things — World Series champions and MVPs and All-Stars. It’s definitely something that you want to be a part of, so that’s not something that I take for granted being here.
“I love the fact that I’m here, and I’m looking forward to having a great camp.”
A “great camp” seems much more plausible this year now that Craig has kicked his foot injury to the curb.
Thumbnail photo via Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports Images