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High Class A Notebook
Compiled by Alan Matthews

Longtime pitching coach Kranitz makes move to manager

By Sean Kernan
April 24, 2003

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.–Rick Kranitz has made many important decisions in many games during his 19 years with the Cubs organization. He just didn’t get any credit, or blame, because he was not the manager.

Now the longtime pitching coach is in his first season as a manager and is learning some of the nuances of the job.

"Certainly there are things that have opened my eyes," Kranitz said in his first week as manager of the Daytona Cubs. "I used spring training to focus on the strengths of the players, learning what they can do so I know what guys I can use to hit-and-run, for example."

Kranitz has filled many a pitching coach slot for the Cubs since his five-year minor league pitching career with the Brewers ended. His résumé includes stops at every level from Rookie ball to the majors. For six of the last seven seasons he had been at the big league level in a variety of assignments, most recently as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.

But when Dusty Baker brought his coaching staff with him from the Giants in the offseason, there was no room for Kranitz. Farm director Oneri Fleita, who didn’t bring back Daytona manager Dave Trembley for what would have been his 10th year with the Cubs, offered the position to Kranitz.

A Whole New Ballgame

Kranitz, 44, is still learning that some of the managing duties, such as dividing playing time, are a bit of a challenge. But the tough tasks have been met with an open mind.

"I know the game, I’ve just never been under the gun before," Kranitz said. "When you’re a pitching coach, you manage along over the course of a season."

The Cubs got off to a 6-8 start, but Kranitz found himself making late-inning decisions immediately as the Cubs won a pair of extra-inning contests in his first two weeks at the helm.

Kranitz said his managing style leaves plenty of room for his coaches to coach. Hitting coach Trey Forkerway, a possible manager in training, will coach third base and guide the infielders. Pitching coach Tom Pratt has full control of his staff.

"I believe in letting the coaching staff do their thing," Kranitz said. "Trey’s going to be on third base. That’s a good opportunity for him. I like to be in the dugout so I’m able to talk to the players."

Kranitz still had not gone through what he considered to be the most difficult part of managing: telling a player he’s been released.

"I don’t know how many guys normally get released in the course of a year, but I hope it’s none this year," Kranitz said. "You’re essentially saying that player’s dream is over. It’s never pleasant."

Another nuance of the new position is adjusting to minor league umpiring. Kranitz had kept his cool with umpires and maintained a fair assessment of their responsibilities.

"With two umpires, it’s very difficult," he said. "I got used to seeing four umpires (in the majors) and they’re pretty good. They don’t miss much. These guys here are young and they’re learning, too. They’re going to miss some."

Evaluating Talent

Another new duty Kranitz has embraced is communicating with club officials on the progress of his players, an essential element of any minor league managing job.

Cubs managers and coaches record narratives on each player and submit more detailed written reports for the player development staff after each game. That late-night work pays off in better evaluations of players.

Kranitz’ experience with pitchers has proven valuable with a Daytona staff that includes Carmen Pignatiello, Jae-Kuk Ryu, Ricky Nolasco and recently signed first-round pick Bobby Brownlie.

"When we do reports, we do it based on how that player would do in the majors that day," Kranitz said. "The difference (between major league pitchers and those at Class A) is they let one bad pitch affect the next one at this level. You have to remain focused, and that’s what our guys need to work on."

The organization’s decision to start Brownlie in Daytona speaks highly of the Cubs’ confidence in Kranitz. Kranitz will be responsible for monitoring Brownlie’s pitch counts, especially considering the shoulder and biceps problems he experienced last spring at Rutgers. Brownlie was sharp in his professional debut April 21, allowing a run off two hits in a 6-3 loss to St. Lucie. He worked efficiently, throwing 71 pitches, 41 for strikes, mostly in the 91 to 92-mph range.

"He's a cool customer," Kranitz said. "It was nice to see him go out there and handle everything so well. There were a lot of emotions. We all remember our first start. He went out there and threw a first-pitch fastball down and away like he's been doing it 10 years."

Brownlie’s demeanor shadowed that of his manager, seated in the home dugout. While Kranitz can keep the same seat in that dugout, the game has taken on a completely different perspective.

California Dreaming

• Visalia lefthander Jeff Francis tossed six scoreless innings to lead the Oaks past Lake Elsinore 9-0 to earn his first professional victory. Francis, the Rockies’ first-round selection last June, scattered three hits and struck out six. The 22-year-old missed most of last season after being hit in the head with a line drive while in the dugout at low Class A Asheville.

• Lefty Ryan Hannaman got off to an outstanding start at San Jose, going 2-0, 3.46 with 24 strikeouts and six walks over his first 13 innings. Hannaman, a fourth-round pick of the Giants in 2000, scattered four hits and struck out seven over five scoreless innings against Bakersfield to earn his second straight win.

• Lancaster recorded its 500th franchise victory and was second in the Cal League with a .300 team batting average, though the JetHawks were hitting just .193 in righthander Lance Cormier’s three starts. Cormier had a 1.50 ERA but a record of just 1-2.

• Balance was not a strong suit of High Desert early on this year. Despite leading the league with a .321 team average, the Mavericks had won just six of their first 10 games. Five Mavericks were featured in the league’s top 20 hitters, including outfielder Daryl Clark, who led the league with .414-8-17 totals. High Desert’s team ERA ranked last in the league at 6.54. The staff had surrendered 22 home runs, issued 76 walks and uncorked 17 wild pitches.

Carolina In My Mind

• The Carolina League’s top two pitchers were a pair of lefthanded teammates named Ryan. Winston-Salem’s Ryan Meaux and Ryan Wing ranked first and second in the league in ERA. Meaux, a 24-year-old reliever, had not allowed an earned run in 13 innings while striking out eight without a walk. Wing was overpowering as a starter for the first-place Warthogs. He was 3-0, 0.50 in his first three starts.

• Prospect-laden Myrtle Beach was off to a slow start. Speedy outfielder Carlos Duran was hitting .185-0-7 with a .207 on-base percentage, and third baseman Andy Marte was batting .185-0-3. The 4-11 Pelicans were ranked seventh in the eight-team league with a .232 team average and had yet to hit a home run. Conversely, the Myrtle Beach pitching staff had surrendered 11 home runs.

• After wearing an 0-for-4 collar on Opening Day, Salem third baseman Trevor Mote hit safely in 12 consecutive games. The 23-year-old Baylor product hit .391 (18-for-46) during the streak and drove in 11 runs while striking out just three times. Mote, a switch-hitter, was batting .364 opposite righthanders and .200 versus lefties.

Postcards From Florida

• Tampa lefthander Brad Halsey has carried last season’s success into this year. The 2002 eighth-round draft pick went 6-1, 1.93 for short-season Staten Island last summer and was a member of last year’s Texas team that won the College World Series. He won his first three starts this season, registering a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks.

• Fort Myers catcher Joe Mauer struggled out of the gates, and his average dipped to .186 as he struck out six times in a seven-game stretch. The No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft struck out just 52 times in 521 career at-bats entering this season. Mauer went 3-for-5 with five RBIs against Clearwater to raise his average to .258, though he still didn’t have a home run.

• Twenty-year-old righthander Brian Pilkington dealt 19 consecutive scoreless innings to begin the season with Vero Beach. The 2001 second-round draft choice was 2-0, 0.00 with 12 strikeouts and three walks in his first three starts, all on the road. He was touched for four earned runs off eight hits in his first home outing, a no-decision against Dunedin. The league was batting just .200 against Pilkington.

• Sarasota righthander Manny Delcarmen tied a career high with 11 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over Vero Beach in his second start of the season. He retired six of the first eight batters he faced on strikes. He held opposing hitters to a .172 average and was 1-0, 1.86 through 19 innings.

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