It can be common for prospects to struggle during their first appearance in the big leagues. That’s exactly what happened to second baseman Kevin Kramer last September.
Kramer hit .311/.365/.492 at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2018, while clubbing a career high 15 home runs in 129 games.
The Pirates drafted Kramer out of UCLA in the second round in 2015, and since then he has emerged as their top prospect at second base. But his time in the majors last year showed that he still has things to work on, despite the strong International League results.
“I think they attacked me a lot with elevated fastballs,” Kramer said of his big league time. “I don’t blame them. I hit the low pitch well. I haven’t really struggled with the elevated fastball up until last year. That reaffirmed my plans of the offseason of getting back to a point of covering all zones.”
All of Kramer’s hits were on pitches in the lower part of the zone. He’s worked the last few years on leveraging his swing to add lift, and now is focused on a better approach against those pitches in the top of the zone. That has involved a taller stance, and letting the high pitch leverage itself, rather than trying to lift the pitch himself.
Kramer noted that even in Triple-A, his power numbers were inconsistent, with only one homer each in April and July. So while his numbers looked good overall, he still has identified an area of improvement.
“I think that the power numbers showed up, but there’s still so much more room to grow,” Kramer said.
The Pirates are going with Adam Frazier at second base, giving Kramer additional time to develop in Indianapolis. He could get the call this year if Frazier struggles or gets hurt. Kramer’s power potential from the middle infield, and strong defense at second give him some of the best upside at the position in the system, and eventually he’ll get a shot at the starting job.
— The Pirates moved righthander Luis Escobar to the bullpen and sent him back down to high Class A Bradenton. He has struggled with control, due to an overhead delivery where his head clears out of the way of his arm and tucks into his left armpit, which takes him off direction to the plate. Escobar has been working to reduce this, along with drop and drive in his delivery. He’s on the 40-man roster and has two options remaining, so he’ll need to get on the fast track as a reliever.
— The Pirates drafted Arizona outfielder Jared Oliva in the seventh round in 2017, and he emerged as a sleeper last season at Bradenton. His breakout was fueled by a power increase, particularly in the first half before a late fade. But Oliva plus speed and strong defense in center field, and if he can continue adding power, he could work his way into a starting role in the majors. The Pirates promoted him to Double-A Altoona this year, where he will be the starting center fielder.