Although Max Kranick will miss a good portion of 2023, does the right-hander have a future role with the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Max Kranick is one of the more forgotten players on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster. The right-hander had an electric debut but hasn’t done much since. After undergoing Tommy John surgery mid-way through the 2022 season, the right-hander was forced to miss the rest of the season and likely at least half of next year. But does Kranick have a role in the Pirates' future plans?
An 11th-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, Kranick made his debut in 2021. He fired off five perfect innings against the St. Louis Cardinals but struggled and went on to allow three or more earned runs in seven of his next eight outings. After starting the 2022 season on the minor league injured list, Kranick returned to action at Triple-A. Kranick made his 2022 MLB debut on May 7th and pitched on May 11th. He totaled just five innings before getting injured again and having to undergo the knife about a month later.
One positive from Kranick’s small sample size in 2022 was an uptick in velocity. In ‘21, he averaged out at 94.2 MPH with his four-seamer, coming in the 68th percentile. This past year, he was sitting at 95.1 MPH. Kranick was also hitting the upper-90s in the minor leagues, even reaching back and firing off some 99 MPH heaters.
Kranick’s uptick in velocity is promising, but it was a small sample size before a major injury. Before his velocity spike, Kranick was not considered anything more than a prospect with back-of-the-rotation upside. Kranick has never been downright dominant in the minor leagues, either. He doesn’t miss many bats, with a 19.7% minor league strikeout rate, but a solid .86 HR/9 and a strong 5.9% walk rate. He also has a 3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through 323.2 innings.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of notable pitching prospects in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Triple-A looks to start the year with an extremely strong starting five of Quinn Priester, Mike Burrows, Luis Ortiz, Kyle Nicolas, and Carmen Mlodzinski. Jared Jones looks to head Altoona’s rotation, even if it’s a weaker group of players. The Pirates also have some other young guns who could find themselves with mid-to-late season promotions to Greensboro or Altoona, like Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler, and Po-Yu Chen.
By the time Kranick returns from the injury list, many of the prospects that are at the Pirates’ Triple-A Indy affiliate at the start of the year may have already made their debut and could even be in a regular role, pushing Kranick even further down the depth chart. But that doesn’t mean that Kranick has no future with the Pirates.
Kranick’s uptick in velocity is interesting and could be best served out of the bullpen, especially now, given his Tommy John surgery. The Pirates aren’t going to shove Kranick back into a full-time starting pitcher role immediately after returning from missing more than a year of playing time. A move to the bullpen could help preserve his arm and help maintain that velocity boost he showed at the start of this year.
It’s a fairly blurry outlook for Kranick, given the rise of prospects like Luis Ortiz and Mike Burrows since undergoing the knife. But Kranick may have the stuff to succeed in a bullpen role. Long term, Kranick will likely be given more reps as a relief pitcher and could potentially work himself into higher-leverage innings.