Bruins' all-time leading hitter hopes success leads to major league call

Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 11:54pm

Last June, Derek Hamblen cemented his Belmont legacy when he left as the school’s all-time hits leader.

Bruins coach Dave Jarvis knew the record of 290 hits might not last long, but he wasn’t positive that Dylan Craig would take over at the top. He feared Craig wouldn’t have that opportunity.

“To be quite honest with you, I wasn’t certain that Dylan would be back this year because of the success he has had and the numbers he’s put up,” Jarvis said. “The fact he is here is a testament to him, his character, his resolve to make sure that education is a high priority for him and that he’s going to get a degree.”

Working toward a chemistry degree and just days after his junior season ended, Craig went undrafted in 2011. His dedication in the classroom might have steered possible MLB suitors away, Jarvis said.

One year later, after surpassing the hits record and having led the Bruins to their second straight NCAA Regional, Craig hopes his name will be called sometime during the three-day MLB draft, which begins Monday.

Jarvis believes Craig deserves to be selected. He feels the same about starting pitchers Matt Hamann, a senior, and junior Chase Brookshire, but there are no guarantees.

Last year, no one from Belmont was drafted. Hamblen and first baseman Nate Woods did professional deals but neither is still playing.

Shortstop Packy Elkins, taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 37th round in 2010, was the last Belmont player to be drafted,

“I feel that the draft is a very fickle thing,” Jarvis, who has had nine players picked since 2001, said. “You never know what’s going to happen and what isn’t going to happen. Scouts are going to find good players wherever they’re at.”

After four years at Belmont, Craig fits that description.

He owns the school record for most hits in a season with 92, set in 2009 when he was named the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year and earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors. Heading into this past weekend’s NCAA Regional at LSU, the left-handed hitter was first in career hits (327), triples (23) and at-bats (950). He also ranked second behind Hamblen in runs scored (193).

In the Atlantic Sun Conference record books, his 23 triples topped the list, and he was fourth in hits and at-bats.

“I do remember choosing a school that I felt I could help make a difference and help the team the best I could. That really was my main goal,” Craig said. “It is cool to think about [the records]. It has taken a while, but it’s cool to think I’ve come that far. It’s nice to have the ability to potentially break some records.”

Equipped with speed and a 6-foot, 190-pound frame, he is nearly flawless in the outfield. The center fielder has committed just 11 career errors, with zero in 2011 and just one this past spring.

A two-time all-state selection out of Baylor School in Chattanooga, he immediately started as a freshman and has been primarily in the top third of the lineup every day since. Prior to this past weekend, he had started in all 236 games with a .386 career batting average. That ranks third in school history and is the best mark since Belmont moved to the NCAA in 1997.

“I couldn’t be happier for him, because his work ethic and attitude is so good,” Jarvis said. “He is obviously a very talented young man. When you mix the combination of those three things together with his God-given abilities you have that type of result where he’s our all-time hits leader.”

Craig, who is from Signal Mountain, a suburb of Chattanooga, plans to graduate in December. He could have taken a couple more classes last spring and walked last month. But with the responsibilities of baseball, he chose a lighter class load. He plans to finish the rest of his courses online.

He wants his degree to lead to a career in a laboratory. Eventually.

“My first goal is to keep playing baseball,” Craig said. “I’ve looked at other job opportunities with chemistry. They appeal to me, but this sport is always going to be my No. 1 passion.”