ST LOUIS, MO: Allen Craig #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits an RBI single in the seventh inning off of Alexi Ogando #41 of the Texas Rangers during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
In Game 1 of the World Series, Allen Craig didn't start but came up with a huge pinch hit.
In Game 2 of the World Series, Allen Craig didn't start but came up with a huge pinch hit.
In Game 3 of the World Series, Allen Craig started and hit a home run his first time up.
At which point Joe Buck intoned: The Cardinals have a young star, in this kid.
First thing's first: Allen Craig is 27; in the context of Major League Baseball, he is neither young, nor a kid.
Granted, in the context of Major League Baseball announcing, Craig is a young kid; announcers often consider a player "young" if he's inexperienced, regardless of how many birthdays he's actually celebrated. Nelson Cruz? Young. Ryan Vogelson? Infant.
But if you're trying to figure out how good Allen Craig might be, you shouldn't assume he's got a lot of growing room left. Because baseball players generally are peaking at right about Allen Craig's current age.
Is Allen Craig a star, right now?
Hardly. The 2011 season was just his second in the majors. And though he played exceptionally well when he played, he didn't play much, starting only 47 games all season. As you probably know, most stars reach the majors earlier than Craig did, and establish themselves as every-day players before they're 27. Well before, usually.
Which doesn't mean Craig Allen isn't a good player. Drafted out of Cal-Berkeley in 2006, Craig moved steadily through the Cardinals' farm system, hitting at every level. But the Cardinals gave him (roughly) a full season at each level, and so he didn't debut in the majors until shortly before his 26th birthday. If the Cardinals really thought they had a star on their hands, they probably would have moved him up a bit more quickly, no?
Instead, Craig has played 219 games in Class AAA ... and batted .320/.379/.545 in those games.
Those are impressive numbers, and there's little doubt about Craig's ability to hit enough to stick in the majors. Why hasn't he been an every-day player? Well, again, it's because the Cardinals didn't think they had a star in him. If they thought he was going to become a star, they probably wouldn't have signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $16 million contract. Or Lance Berkman to a one-year, $8 million contract for 2011. Or Lance Berkman to a one-year, $12 million contract for 2012.
Unless, of course, that's all been a preliminary move to account for the loss to free agency of Albert Pujols. Craig's played all over the field, but he's really suited to one of the corner outfield positions, or first base. Right now the Cardinals have four players for those three positions, and Craig's obviously the odd man out. But if Pujols leaves after this season, Berkman will simply slide to first base and Craig can take over in right field.
Would he be a star, playing every day in right field?
Nah, probably not. But for a year or two, he might be good enough that the Cardinals wouldn't miss Albert Pujols any more than they've missed Adam Wainwright this season.