On Saturday morning in the Gulf Coast League, right-handed pitcher Max Kranick made his season debut. It’s not where he expected to be at this point, but he will take it.
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Kranick in the 11th round of the 2016 amateur draft. He was rated as a much higher pick, but teams passed on him early due to bonus demands. The Pirates made him their first selection on day three of the draft and signed him to a $300,000 bonus, which was $200,000 over-slot.
Kranick went to the GCL after signing last year and made nine appearances, posting a 2.43 ERA over 33.1 innings, showing excellent control of his fastball and solid secondary pitches, which led to a 21:4 SO/BB ratio. His control of a low-90s fastball from an easy delivery, along with an advanced changeup and projectable frame, led to Kranick being ranked as our 16th best prospect in the 2017 Prospect Guide. He dropped a little (19th) in our mid-season ranking, but that was only due to the uncertainty of his return.
The Pirates like to advance prep pitchers to Bristol in their second season of pro ball. The expectations coming into the season were that Kranick, Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor and Austin Shields would go there as a group. They were the four prep pitchers drafted by the Pirates in 2016. Ogle and MacGregor made it to Bristol for Opening Day, but Kranick and Shields each had setbacks at the end of May.
Kranick was dealing with shoulder tightness in mid-May, then after a brief shutdown, he threw two innings during an Extended Spring Training game. The tightness returned after that outing, which caused him to stop throwing for the next month.
Since returning, Kranick put in five innings of work, in addition to the build up and bullpens in the early stages of the process. He pitched a two inning simulated game 12 days ago, which consisted of 35 pitches. After throwing a bullpen last Friday, he was supposed to make his season debut this Monday. Rain postponed the GCL game that day, but the Pirates wanted to keep him on his schedule, so he pitched a three inning simulated game. He increased his pitches to 50 and everything felt fine afterwards. Now on a normal five-day starting pitcher schedule, Kranick threw a bullpen during the week, then made his season debut today against the GCL Blue Jays.
In the first inning, Kranick set down the side in order on three fly balls, one to each outfielder. In the second inning, he started with another fly ball, then walked the second batter. That was followed by a 6-4-3 double play to end another quick inning. Kranick breezed through his third inning as well, this time with two grounders and a fly out.
The fourth inning wasn’t as easy, leading to one run. Kranick allowed a single through the right side of the infield, then an errant pick-off throw put that runner on second base. A stolen base on a strikeout, and then a passed ball, led to a run. Kranick got a pop out and a ground out to end the inning.
His final line was a nice out for his debut. He went four innings, giving up an unearned run on one hit and one walk, with one strikeout. Kranick threw a total of 46 pitches, mostly fastballs. He felt great afterwards, which is the most important part, but thought the outing could have gone better.
“It went okay, I felt great which is most important. My command wasn’t great and I just have to throw my off-speed. I babied it a bit,” Kranick said “Other than that it went well.”
Kranick will be one of the players next year, where we mention the innings they don’t get credited for on paper. Even if he goes every five days from here on out, he is only going to make five more starts. The possible exception would be if they sent him to Morgantown during the final week of their season, which the Pirates did with Jacob Taylor last year, specifically to get him some extra work. Then Kranick could get a sixth start before the season ends.
Kranick was one of the first minor league players to report to camp this year. His first minor league Spring Training game, which was a one inning appearance, was on March 15th. He wasn’t getting a lot of work at first, going 1-2 innings each time out for the next month, but it was consistent throwing. That was increased to three innings per appearance starting in mid-April and he did that until the shoulder tightness started about five weeks later.
So while his final stats (assuming all goes well) will say he pitched around 30 innings this season, that’s just scratching the surface. He had three months of throwing before his injury and just over two months of that time was pitching in games in Spring Training and Extended Spring Training. He also added another month of throwing since the injury, plus five innings of simulated game action.
There is no set plan at this time for his next start. He will go on five days rest, but it could either be in Bristol or in the GCL. He also doesn’t know about plans for the Fall Instructional League yet, but you would assume the Pirates will want to get him some more innings. For now, the important part is that his rehab has stayed on schedule and he felt great after today’s game.