In little over two years Kevin Kramer went from the Pirates top middle infield prospect to part of a Seinfeld inspired punchline and ultimately to the odd man out. These days Kramer is rarely even mentioned as someone with a shot of being a bench player in Pittsburgh and since we’ve seen precious little from him on the field I found myself asking, what the hell happened here?
There is a label many give players like Kevin, Quad A player. I can’t say that’s wrong but I also can’t say he’s been given the same chance as others. Between injury and indecisiveness as to where he might fit best on the field Kevin has participated in 43 MLB games over two seasons from 2018-2019 and he missed 2020 all together.
Just about 20 days ago the Pirates officially outrighted him to AAA Indianapolis, which wasn’t a surprise, but he faces hurdles to get back to the show beyond even those of his personal performance.
First, he’s now 27 years old, very hard to continue to call him a prospect and fair or not, in his 43 games he has underwhelmed. Never managing to bring the power to MLB he displayed in AAA.
This isn’t Mickey Mantle mind you, but for a second baseman 15 homeruns in 120 some games isn’t a joke either, essentially there was reason to be excited about him and for quite some time visions of he and Kevin Newman manning the middle of the Pirates Defense seemed like it faced little opposition.
As we sit here today, it’s hard to even put him on a list of possibilities. A second round pick Kevin set off on his Pirates career in West Virginia playing both short and full seasons in 2015, then on to Bradenton and back to West Virginia in 2016. In 2017 he was promoted to AA Altoona and things started coming together as he hit .297 in a full season for the Curve. It’s not as though he was terrible before that season but nothing that would raise an eyebrow either.
Then in 2018 he brought the wood. Out of nowhere he hit 15 dingers in his first season for Indianapolis and this is when his name started coming up in discussions of the future. Did I mention he did that with a .311 average too? I mean this had all the makings of a late bloomer, someone the Pirates had ‘found’ in the draft. While most teams actually expect their 2nd round picks to contribute at some point it had become somewhat of a coup for something like that to occur in Pittsburgh.
This performance earned him a call up in 2018 along with double play partner Kevin Newman, and let’s just say it didn’t go well for either. Kevin Newman went from short stop of the future to, oh my god we need to get a short stop, hi Erik Gonzalez. And Kevin Kramer was all but out of the equation, especially after they planted Adam Frazier at second base.
In 2019 his average would drop to .260, the power fell back to earth with 10 home runs but he still earned another call up, this time though the Pirates would bounce him all over the diamond. Third base, second base, and both corner outfield spots and he handled them all fairly well, but the bat didn’t travel.
I can’t sit here and tell you he was part of the plan in 2020, but an ill timed injury took that chance away and he’ll most likely start on an aging AAA Indianapolis Indians squad in 2021.
Kevin’s story is a micro chasm for the failure of Neal Huntington. I’m not a guy who thinks he was a failure from stem to stern but in the area of drafting and development, his warts have shown catastrophic.
Drafting a college Junior requires a different path but the Pirates far too often treated players like this exactly the same as a High School Senior. The same path leads some to have no opportunity to crack a major league lineup before they are 25 if they’re lucky, 27 if they aren’t, and most aren’t.
Kevin is collateral damage. Now, he may never have made it with another organization either, that fact can’t be overlooked, but here he had no chance as his timeline was always going to have him playing prime years in the minors.
Who knows what 2021 will bring, maybe the Bucs will trade so many players that Kramer ultimately get’s a shot and shows good, but even so, it’s hard to call a 27 year old “future”.
For the sake of comparison, not talent level or statistically but purely a path, Austin Meadows was drafted in 2013 right out of high school and his path was very similar to Kevin Kramer’s. The difference is by the time Austin fought through the standard progression the Pirates used he was 23 whereas Kevin was 25. It matters.
Again a much different player but imagine Nick Gonzales who is right now 21 years old being sent on the same path. If that happened he wouldn’t reach AAA until he was 24 or 25. Not aged out of baseball by any stretch but hardly a kid. As we approach the start of the season we’ll see where they place Nick and all the players they drafted in 2020, more importantly we’ll see how they allow them to progress.
I had gotten very accustomed to ignoring the projected arrival dates for prospects over the years because the Pirates have always thought themselves smarter, well the evidence is in, they weren’t. What they built was a pipeline with a clog.