The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Kevin Kramer in the second round out of UCLA this year, taking their second shortstop on day one of the draft, after taking Kevin Newman in the first round. Kramer started all 61 games at shortstop during his junior year with UCLA, hitting .323 with a .423 on base percentage.
While he played shortstop this past season, his freshman and sophomore seasons were spent at third base. The Pirates currently have him playing second base for the Black Bears, while Newman mans shortstop. With the fact that the Pirates drafted shortstop Cole Tucker with their top pick in 2014, it appears that second base will be his future home within the organization. The learning curve should be minimal as he welcomes the opportunity and change.
“I actually came into UCLA to play second base and played there during fall ball, but they needed me at third,” Kramer said. “I am comfortable [at second base].”
Kramer missed the entire 2014 season with a torn labrum to his throwing shoulder. He said that the injury was progressive, from just wear and tear and not anything specific that he did to hurt it. He said that it still does not feel 100% and thinks that he may still have “a little more left in the tank,” as far as velocity on his throws. He smiled when discussing this and conceded that maybe he is back to full strength.
The injury does not appear to be having any effects. In Sunday night’s game, he twice made above average plays going to his right. On one, he threw across his body to record the third out of an inning. On the other he ranged to his right, stepped on second for the force, and threw a strike to first to record the double play. The throw had plenty of zip.
Despite coming off the shoulder injury, Kramer, who bats left-handed, significantly increased his power numbers from 2013 to 2015 by raising his home run total from three to seven and increasing his slugging from .376 to .476, which is a tremendous jump. Kramer attributed his surge in power to “just getting physically stronger.”
Kramer somewhat resembles former Pirate Warren Morris at the plate, with his short, compact stroke along with his physical stature. He is a line drive hitter. Early on, he has shown to be very disciplined at the plate. He does not swing at bad pitches and lays off the border line pitch when ahead in the count. He also adopted a new approach this past season at UCLA which he has carried with him. He has somewhat of a unique leg kick, striding and setting his lead leg down earlier than most. Kramer explained that he used to be a “no stride” guy, meaning he did not take a stride when he swung (picture Starling Marte).
The no stride approach is something that has become more prevalent in the game over the past 10-15 years. It’s foundation is based upon “rotational hitting,” a method that is taught more and more at clinics and baseball academies. However, the criticism of the method is that it saps a hitter’s power.
“I don’t think the stride is what has led to my increase in power,” Kramer said. “I think the stride has helped me with my rhythm and timing. I actually see the ball better.”
He said the Pirates have not told him to work on any specific aspect of his game, telling him to just go out and play. That said, he is always tweaking things in his game. This is obviously a good sign as baseball is a game of adjustments; especially when it comes to hitting. One adjustment won’t be an issue for him, and that is the switch from aluminum bats to wooden bats. Kramer played in wooden bat tournaments growing up, along with the Northwoods League and Cape Cod League which are wooden bat leagues for elite college players in the summer.
Kramer is very bright and well-spoken. He decided to attend UCLA, despite being drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians, so that he could improve his draft stock, while staying close enough that his family could see him play, and while going to a school with good academics. The Pirates called him about ten picks before they drafted him and they agreed to terms. Kramer emphasized several times that his being drafted was the culmination of his “family’s hard work.” He credited his dad with always knowing when to just let him play, along with his coach at UCLA and travel ball coach when he was younger.
Kramer has looked solid at second base so far and he will definitely hit. He is extremely determined to continually improve all aspects of his game. He looks like a guy who has a chance to be hitting line drives off the Clemente Wall in the future.