Pirates prospect Kevin Kramer adding power to swing
BRADENTON, Fla. — Kevin Kramer wasn’t happy about the number of hard outs he was making, hard hits for which he wasn’t reaping rewards. So he set out to change the trajectory of the ball.
Not to mention his career, as the knock on Kramer after his second pro season was that he was a good hitter who was missing power.
“When we sat down and talked about how we wanted to go about changing that, it was about getting the ball in the air more,” said Kramer, the Pirates’ 2015 second-round pick. “I don’t talk launch angle. I don’t try to hit the top of the cage. I don’t do any of that stuff. It’s just about driving the ball and driving it efficiently.
“How do we drive the ball in advantage counts and not look like that’s all we’re trying to do, trying to hit home runs, because that’s not me? I feel like I’ve been a line-drive hitter for most of my life, and I still want to keep that identity, for sure. It’s about maximizing that.”
Kramer saw a power surge last season, when he hit 17 doubles, three triples, six home runs and had 27 RBIs in 53 games at Double-A Altoona before a right-hand fracture in June ended his season. The second baseman is maximizing with a hot start to spring training, hitting .444 (4 for 9) with two doubles, a triple and a home run.
“I’m running into more balls now and driving them into gaps, and that was the whole goal from the beginning,” Kramer said. “It was about driving the ball into gaps. It wasn’t about hitting the ball as high as possible. Obviously, 2017 got interrupted but through (202) at-bats, it was a good enough sample size to see that it worked.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle likes what he’s seen from Kramer’s “battle in the box” and “loves the edge that he brings” not only to the plate but to his new position after playing third base and shortstop at UCLA.
“He’s a backyard ballplayer, and our development people have spoken highly of him all the way along,” Hurdle said. “Some other guys may have gotten more credit than him. He’s showing up and competing.”
Kramer spent a month of the 2016 offseason at the Florida Instructional League, which Hurdle called “very valuable,” and played in the Arizona Fall League to work not only on his mechanics.
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing was just mentality: What am I training on in the offseason? What am I trying to do at the plate? How can I be more aggressive within my approach?” Kramer said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of things, of course, as everything usually is.”
The same with Kramer’s switch to second base, a position he never played. He was drafted in the same class as first-rounder Kevin Newman, which brought about never-ending Seinfeld references and necessitated a move.
Kramer admits it took longer than he wanted to get used to playing second base and making the double-play turn but now believes his versatility to play several positions is a strength that, combined with his newfound power, could accelerate his ascension through the minors.
“For me, the challenge every day and what makes it so fun is going out there and creating your own work of art, whether you’re at short or second or third,” he said. “It is what you make it. I take great pride in that, pride in the work that I put out there, and I’m working on it to show everyone. … It shows them that they can trust me at any position they want to put me in. That’s huge, and I think Clint will tell you the same thing.”
For now, Hurdle is enjoying Kramer’s swing this spring and the process that added power to it.
“I think there’s an aggressive swing,” Hurdle said. “When the balls are elevated, he’s probably feeling more confident as well. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to watch some of these young guys get up here and do some good things.”