Minor league report: Bradenton's Kramer adjusting to switch to 2nd base
Kevin Kramer has progressed this season by learning in reverse.
The Pirates' 2015 second-round pick is in his first full season at second base, a position he played only sparingly on travel teams before college. He played almost exclusively at shortstop and third base at UCLA.
Now with High-A Bradenton, Kramer has access to and has taken advantage of the teams' video technology at McKechnie Field. But he said his transition to the right side of the infield has been more about the feel than the film.
“It's about getting comfortable and always expecting a runner to be right in your grill, no matter what,” Kramer said. “It's about knowing when I can put my body in a certain position and when I can't, depending on the runner. Whether they are fast or slow, depending on the ball, whether it's fast or slow, and just kind of expecting to always be right in the firing line.”
Kramer said a tough part of his transition initially was not being able to see the runner's approach to second base as he received a double-play feed.
To become more comfortable with the reversed footwork, he said he often takes a bucket out to the infield dirt during batting practice. He said he runs through those uncomfortable feeds to figure out the angles and to gain a feel for his momentum falling away from first base on the transfer.
Helping him this season have been two double-play partners: Kevin Newman, now with Double-A Altoona, and Cole Tucker, promoted from Low-A West Virginia in May. Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said Kramer, who is almost three years Tucker's senior, has taken the 20-year-old shortstop under his wing.
“It's a definite mentorship. The leadership abilities that Kramer possesses are contagious. He likes to help other players, and he's definitely our team leader,” Ryan said. “I think he enjoys that, so when Tucker came, they worked diligently with each other on their double-play feeds, and when they hit back-to-back in the lineup, it's, ‘This is what I'm looking for. I'll give you a strike when I'm on first if you want to steal a base.' ”
Ryan said Kramer's effectiveness as a left-handed hitter and his ability to keep at-bats alive have helped him as a No. 2 hitter. After hitting .253 in April, Kramer said, he became more comfortable with pitchers throwing secondary pitches in a wider variety of counts. The result was a .299 batting average in his next 57 games.
In the muggy Florida State League, balls hit in the thick air tend not to carry, and that meshes with Kramer's tendency to hit line drives and ground balls. Through 78 games, his ground-out to fly-out ratio was 2.2 to 1.
“I mean that's been my game. It's been my game for most of my baseball career. I don't view myself as a guy that's going to hit a lot of home runs strictly because of the trajectory of my balls,” said Kramer, who entered Thursday with three home runs this season.
By being a selective hitter, Kramer finds himself in many deep counts. This season, he has proved calm in those situations. Entering Thursday, Kramer had the fewest strikeouts (42) among the nine Bradenton hitters with at least 190 at-bats.
“I have a pretty good idea of the strike zone, and I feel like that's just the way I've been raised,” Kramer said of hitting with two strikes. “I think that's a part of my game that will be with me a long time if I get to play this game a long time.”