As much as any player in the organization, second baseman Kevin Kramer bought into the launch-angle revolution and saw consistent results.
The former UCLA star didn’t hit a single home run in his first pro season in 2015. He hit just four in 2016 and hit six in an injury-shortened 2017 campaign.
In 2018, however, the 24-year-old Kramer looked for lift and he got it, more than doubling his career high with 15 home runs at Triple-A Indianapolis. He also hit a career-high 35 doubles and struck out 127 times—ninth most in the International League—but he still finished tied for second in the league with a .311 average.
“It’s just a case of continuing to sell out to the approach, to continue to sell out to the idea of causing damage,” farm director Larry Broadway said. “He’s been consistent in his approach and in putting himself in the physical position to continue to do that. He keeps staying back behind the ball and finding a way to put a charge into it.”
The Pirates called up Kramer in September to make his major league debut.
While not as heralded as top prospect righthander Mitch Keller, righty J.T. Brubaker was steadier at both Double-A Altoona and Indianapolis in 2018.
Brubaker, a 2015 sixth-round pick out of Akron, was Indianapolis’ most reliable arm. He finished seventh in the IL with a 3.10 ERA in 22 starts after posting a 1.80 ERA in six starts for Altoona. The 24-year-old compiled 131 strikeouts and 44 walks in 154 innings.
“He’s really done a nice job of taking the ball and somewhat dominating the level,” Broadway said. “. . . He’s been attacking the hitters, using the game plan. It’s really been encouraging. He’s been really consistent, even if he doesn’t have a lot of strikeouts, and as far as that’s concerned, I think there’s more in there to be had.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
Outfielder Jonah Davis spent this spring in the shadow of California teammate and Golden Spikes Award winner Andrew Vaughn, but he still earned first-team all-Pac-12 Conference honors as a junior before the Pirates took him in the 15th round. The 5-foot-10, 206-pound Davis then dominated the Rookie-level Appalachian League with Bristol.
In 51 games, Davis hit .306/.398/.612 and led the league in slugging percentage, while finishing third with 12 home runs and second with 15 doubles. The Pirates have some outfield depth in the system, but he has a chance to move up the ladder quickly.
“He’s a really good, twitchy athlete,” Broadway said. “He works hard and puts in the stuff he needs to put in, and there’s a different level of explosiveness in his barrel.
“He’s playing center field, and while he has a lot to learn about the game, he has the tools. He can throw a little bit. He can run, hit for power and hit for average. There’s some really interesting components to his game. He has big power and big upside.