With the minor league season days away from starting, we continue to release our top 20 Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list. Here is number seven:
Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been considered one of the best in baseball. However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack. Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything. They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.
With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season. The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, Travis MacGregor at 18, and left-handed starter Braeden Ogle at 17. The first hitter to show up on our countdown was Calvin Mitchell at number 16 and Oneil Cruz at number 15. Coming in at number 14 was 2017 draft pick Steven Jennings. Then was is a pair of international prospect in right-hander Luis Escobar at number 13 overall and outfielder Lolo Sanchez at number 12. Right-handed starter and 2010 draftee Nick Kingham came in at number 11. Hard-throwing left-hander Taylor Hearn came in at number 10 and former first-round pick Kevin Newman at number nine. Newly acquired outfielder Bryan Reynolds comes in at number eight. Number seven is a middle infielder from UCLA.
The Pirates drafted Kevin Kramer in the second round back in 2015, making him the second collegiate middle infielder they selected, with Kevin Newman being drafted with the 19th overall pick. When the Pirates drafted Kramer he was listed as a shortstop, but he played third base with the Bruins in 2015 after he missed his 2014 season with a torn labrum.
That makes Kramer already 24, turning 25 in October, ultimately making him 25 by the time he reaches the Pirates. Kramer being so hold and not having any Triple-A plate appearances and only 234 in Double-A makes his timetable a tad more murky given the Pirates, but this is the chance for the club to be aggressive with the left-handed hitting middle infielder.
Minor League Numbers
Kramer has played 233 games in the Pirates organization, slashing .284/.363/.400, showing good discipline with a 9.2 percent walk rate and 14.8 percent strikeout rate. The bat to ball ability was there, but the power was lacking, for 2015 and 2016 that is. Kramer spent the past season with Double-A Altoona, slashing .297/.380/.500 with a 7.3 percent walk rate and 21.4 percent strikeout rate, as he traded in swing and miss for more power than he had in years past.
That philosophy and tradeoff has made Kramer blossom into more of a prospect than he once was as a contact hitting middle infielder. As Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs wrote on his prospect list
"“Kramer had recorded an ISO twice that of his 2016 mark and while also cutting his ground-ball rate from 55% to 37%.”"
That change isn’t by chance, rather design, as Kramer told Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic that:
"“Sometimes, on a 2-0 or 3-1 count, I shouldn’t be afraid to swing and miss. That was a big thing for me, because I’ve always been pretty patient hitter. But, they wanted something different and we had to go about it a different way.”"
This coincides with the modern approach to hitting, where the three true outcome results are more prominent. But Kramer adding power to his game over just putting the ball in play has allowed him to jump over Newman and other players in this years ranking. From the left side, the new loft in his swing should play, especially as a second baseman moving forward where range isn’t as big of a need defensively.
After being limited to 53 Double-A games last season because of a broken hand, Kramer will start the year there again, though he should be a quick call up to Triple-A if he performs well, once again teaming up with Kevin Newman. The left-handed stroke and ability to play middle infield – played short in the Arizona Fall League this past 2017 and saw time there in spring training – makes Kramer a blooming prospect.
As much as he broke out last year, he needs to keep the power stroke going with a full season to find himself with the Pirates starting lineup. He has the ceiling to replace Josh Harrison as the starting second baseman, but at the very worst he should be a solid bat coming off the bench as a utility infielder. There’s a non zero chance Kramer makes the team at some point in 2018 if injuries occur, but 2019 is the more safe bet for the middle infielder.
*Numbers from Fangraphs