The Pittsburgh Pirates have an intriguing infield prospect named Kevin. No, not THAT one.
In 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Kevin Newman 18th overall. His advanced hit tool alone had many praising the pick. They followed that up with a late-first round pick that addressed a position of need – third base – with an athletic youngster with high upside in Ke’Bryan Hayes.
In the middle of the second round, the Pirates then took Kevin Kramer, a shortstop from UCLA with a surgically repaired shoulder and a bat that had middling power at best.
Instantly, the jokes started flying. Newman. Kramer. Newman and Kramer! Seinfeld! Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Listen to our first episode of Futurebucs to hear quotes from Kramer and others on his hot start
They entered professional baseball together, and won a championship with the Single-A Short Season West Virginia Black Bears in their first season. Then they moved on to join the Bradenton Marauders in 2016, winning another championship. Newman did not see that one through – he had earned a promotion to the Double-A Altoona Curve part-way through the year, but the pair accomplished a great deal in their time together.
Newman’s tools, near-universally high rankings in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system and his inclusion in some juicy trade rumors caused many to forget about the other half of the keystone duo. Newman weathered the accolades in stride and focused on improving. So, too, did Kramer. Except you probably did not hear about it.
With Kramer joining Newman as part of the 2017 Curve roster, the duo were reunited again.
Except this time, people are going to want to be talking about Kramer, too.
A hot start, but not a coincidence
The Pittsburgh Pirates have to like the start they’ve seen from Kramer in the first week-plus of Double-A play. Newman is 13-for-28 through the team’s first eight games. Those 13 hits include three home runs, seven RBI and four doubles. He has walked seven times against eight strikeouts.
Two of those home runs came in the Curve’s record-setting home opener. The sudden power outburst has come to the surprise of many, including Kramer himself.
“I think the last time [that Kramer hit two home runs] was in little league. I think. Maybe,” Kramer told reporters after the game, a 3-2 Curve win. While many might find that hard to believe, some see it as entirely plausible. Kramer was never scouted as someone with a power tool, as his original draft scouting report from MLB.com shows.
With a Draft class that does have some depth in the middle infield department, Kramer does stand out with his ability to handle the bat. If he can get his surgically repaired shoulder all the way back, he could prove he can stay at shortstop, further raising his value. There’s little question Kramer can hit. He has an advanced approach at the plate with quick hands and the ability to spray balls to all fields. He doesn’t possess much power and is more of a doubles type of hitter than anything else. A solid average runner, Kramer does have good defensive actions overall, with good range and hands. The big question is his shoulder. If it bounces back, he could be a solid shortstop at the next level. If not, he still has the chance to be a pretty good offensive-minded second baseman.
So where has this power surge come from? According to his manager Michael Ryan, Kramer’s success originates from his approach.
“He knows what his approach is; he has a plan going up there with each at-bat;” Ryan told me after the game. “He has an approach and he sticks with it. He dictates the at-bat, he does not let the pitcher tell him how it’s going to go.”
“I’m glad he could have a game like tonight.”
Ryan managed that 2016 FSL champion Marauders club, so as he spoke about Kramer, he did so with the authority of someone who has seen him countless times. Earlier this year, we spoke to Ryan on Pirates Breakdown Radio. We asked him – ‘Who is the one prospect no one is talking about, but should be talking about?’
Without hesitancy his answer was Kramer. Naturally, after Kramer’s coming out party for the hometown Curve fans, I had to ask Ryan if he felt a certain sense of pride in seeing Kramer start to get the recognition he deserves as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 20th ranked prospect.
His answer was delivered in such a matter-of-fact way that I felt silly for asking it. But it spoke volumes.
“He’s a second round pick, so i’m not sure why people weren’t talking about him. I understand the Newman thing, but he’s a good player.”
“I’m glad he could have a game like tonight.”
Approach Approach Approach
The word ‘approach’ comes up often with Kramer. It was seen in his scouting report, and both he and Ryan spoke about it often.
Kramer’s approach may be one reason why he’s been so slump-proof as he learns to hit against professional pitching. During his 2016 season with the Marauders, Kramer had exactly four instances where he went more than two games without a hit. Three of those four were three game slumps before he was back to being a productive bat.
I brought that up to Ryan, and asked him what makes Kramer less susceptible to prolonged slumps than others.
“He knows what he is going to do before he steps in the box, and that’s an advanced approach.” Ryan said. “Any time you have a plan, you can stick to it, you’re going to have success.”
We’ve mentioned at the top how Kramer was the “other” Kevin in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system.
To his complete credit, Kramer simply does not care about any of that. When I asked him what it meant that Ryan felt that more “baseball people” should be talking about him, Kramer was decidedly nonplussed.
“I don’t worry about what anyone else says. I know about the work I put in. If we focus on the right things, we’ll be in the right spot.” he told me.
That approach (there’s that word again) should help Kramer stay focused on what he needs to do to show the Pittsburgh Pirates that the all-around offensive game he is now showing is sustainable, and will play at the next level and beyond.
If that happens, Ryan will, again, not be surprised.
“He’s a winner. He won a championship with the Black Bears, won one with us[Bradenton] last year.”
“That’s not a coincidence.”