Even-keeled Craig confident he'll regain form

Red Sox non-roster invitee feeling healthy, not dwelling on recent struggles

Even-keeled Craig confident he'll regain form

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If coming to Red Sox camp with no defined role seemed humbling for Allen Craig a year ago, this time he comes without even a roster spot.

A World Series hero with the Cardinals in 2011 and a top National League run producer in '12 and '13, Craig's production fell sharply the past two years.

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If his status on the depth chart has changed dramatically, his attitude has not.

Remarkably even keel when he was at his best, Craig has remained that way through these tough times -- which he is still convinced are only temporary.

"It's not much different," Craig said of being a non-roster invitee. "I'm here to prepare for my season and that's how I looked at things. I worked hard this offseason to get in shape and get everything feeling good. So I came here, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling confident, and I'm getting ready for my season. That's' my focus right now.

"I'm not focusing on any type of situation or anything like that. I'm here to just play well and do what I need."

If the general public has given up on Craig, he still has a strong belief in himself. And he is only 31.

"Things will change for the better. I just have to ride it out and do what I do and that's kind of where I'm at right now," he said. "I'm just not focusing too much on the future. Just having fun playing the game and that's where I'm at."

Craig's decline started in his final months with the Cardinals in 2014, when a troublesome left foot proved hard to recover from. He was traded to the Red Sox along with Joe Kelly that July for John Lackey and he bottomed out from there.

By 2015, the foot was no longer a problem for Craig, but he didn't have an everyday role with the Red Sox and struggled to be productive off the bench. In May, the Red Sox sent him to Triple-A, and he wouldn't resurface until September callups.

The Red Sox have a starting outfield of Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. They have established righty and lefty backups in Chris Young and Brock Holt. First base is reserved for Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw.

In a perfect world, Craig would get traded to a team that had more opportunity. Yet Craig is owed $33 million over the next three years. If the Red Sox eventually find a trade partner, they'll probably have to assume nearly all of the money.

But these are the things Craig doesn't think about. What goes through his mind is the chance to get back to being the player he once was.

"I'm confident," he said. "Obviously there's tough times and there's ups and downs in everybody's career. I felt like I got in this situation pretty quickly. I know that things can change pretty quickly, too. I've accomplished a decent amount in the time that I've been in the big leagues and I've had some success. I know that things can turn around quickly once I show that I'm that player again."

If the foot injury is what started Craig's sharp decline, he knows that can no longer be used as any type of excuse.

"I feel good," he said. "Obviously, I'm two years removed from my foot injury and I felt good coming into last spring, but any time you have just that much more time to heal and feel healthy, it's just going to help out in terms of how you feel on the field. But also this offseason, I was able to prepare and run a lot more and I feel confident with the impact on my foot to train and actually work on agility, so I feel like I'm in really good shape right now."

How has Craig been able to maintain such a positive attitude?

"If you don't have a positive attitude, that's going to make it that much more difficult," he said. "I try not to focus on the situation too much and just focus on preparing for my season and doing well at whatever level."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.