Tanner Craig of the Mankato MoonDogs steps into the batting cage and places his feet precisely where he wants them.
As pitch after pitch comes in, he uncoils his muscular torso and sends a barrage of line drives on to the outfield turf. It’s another day at the office for the first baseman/designated hitter as the team prepares for a game that evening.
MoonDogs manager Matt Wollenzin is not surprised by the array of solid ropes off Craig’s bat.
“That’s what he does, he’s a cage rat,” Wollenzin says. “He’s a real technician, and when you combine that with his natural ability, you end up with a pretty good hitter.”
Pretty good might be an understatement.
At the conclusion of the first half of the Northwoods League season, Craig was leading the MoonDogs in a number of offensive categories.
He was tops in batting average (.313), at-bats (96), doubles (5), OPS (.891) and slugging percentage (.479) and tied for the team lead in home runs (3) and RBIs (17) .
Considering that Craig was signed to only a temporary contract to start the season, those numbers aren’t too bad.
The native of Scottsburg, Indiana, who plays his college ball at the University of Evansville, was told about 10 days ago that his contract was being extended through the rest of the season.
“It was a relief,” Craig said. “I knew the deadline was coming up when they had to make a decision, and I’m glad they wanted to keep me around.”
Craig was a freshman at Evansville two years ago and put together an excellent rookie season. He hit .289 with 11 doubles, six home runs and 25 RBIs and finished with a .450 slugging percentage.
This spring, he hit .284 with 14 doubles and five home runs and had a team-leading slugging percentage of .442.
A shortstop in high school, Craig was moved to third base his first season at Evansville and then moved across the infield to first base as a sophomore.
“Like a lot of people I thought playing first was going to be easy, but there’s a lot of little things you have to do to get good at it,” he said. “It was weird at first, but I’m getting the hang of it now.”
Craig ended up with the MoonDogs mostly due to Wollenzin’s connection to Evansville. He was an assistant coach there before moving to Bethany Lutheran, where he assists former MoonDogs’ manager Ryan Kragh.
“I have a good relationship with the coaching staff (at Evansville),” Wollenzin said. “They thought Tanner would be a good fit for us so we signed him, and he’s performed well.”
Craig was able to pick the brain of Evansville teammate Kenton Crews, who played for the MoonDogs for two years. Crews gave his Mankato experience a thumbs up, and Craig was eager to join the team.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “We have a great group of guys here.
“The weather got hot a few days ago, but that’s fine with me. I’d much rather have it too hot than too cold.”
The MoonDogs stumbled to a 15-21 first-half effort in the Great Plains West division. If they are going to turn things around in the second half, they’ll need Craig to keep swinging a hot bat.