Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kratz Gets The Call

Hey, you might have heard that the Pirates called up another rookie to add to the roster. This guy's pedigree is a little different than those of McCutch, Tabata, Walker, Lincoln, and Pedro. But his tale is perhaps even more compelling.

The player is thirty year-old catcher Erik Kratz. The bloom's off his rose; he's played nine years in the minors for eight different clubs, and the only time he's ever seen a MLB game was when he bought a ticket.

Well, that'll change tomorrow night. Kratz got pulled from the International League All-Star game in the fifth inning by his manager, Frank Kremblay, and was told to report to Pittsburgh.

For once, the Pirates did it right. Kratz is from Telford, less than an hour from Allentown, where the All-Star game was being played. He had a bleacher full of friends and family to share the long-time-comin' moment with him.

In fact, Mitch Williams of MLB Networks talked to him between innings; Kratz got all teary on him, and Williams sent him into the stands to tell his wife Sarah the news.

It was a long road for the 6'4", 255 pounder.

Kratz started as a 1998 graduate of Christopher Dock High School in Lansdale, and went to Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, where he tore it up and today holds a handful of school batting records.

He still claims the Division III record for career doubles with 75, and batted .507 with 14 home runs, 59 RBI, and a .993 slugging percentage during his senior season. Kratz was named the Conference Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. Overall, he hit .415 with 33 homers and 159 RBI in 154 games during his collegiate career.

Still, D-3 is D-3, and Kratz was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2002 draft to begin his minor league odyssey. In seven years with the Jays' organization, he only played more than 83 games once; he was considered no more than back-up material.

Kratz never put up very strong offensive numbers, but the pitchers loved him. He had a reputation as a savvy game caller, was an outstanding receiver, and routinely threw out 30-35% of base runners that ran on him. His glove is what kept him with the Toronto system.

But in 2009, he finally got the chance to opt out and joined Pittsburgh. At first blush, with Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo, and Robinzon Diaz ahead of him, he looked like he was still prime back-up fodder.

Kratz caught his big break with the Pirates that year when Doumit fractured his right wrist just a dozen games into the season. Diaz got the call to replace Doumit on the big-league club, and Kratz became Indy's starting catcher.

By the end of the year, he had played in a career-high 93 games and in 319 at-bats hit .273 with 11 HR, 30 doubles, and 43 RBI. The big guy led all IL catchers in home runs and RBI.

Kratz earned mid-season and postseason International League All-Star honors plus the All-Star Game MVP award after going 2-for-2 with a walk, double and two-run homer in a one-run win.

The righty did put up some platoon-like stats, though. Kratz hit .340 against southpaws and just .243 against righties. But he did all the little things well. He swiped seven bases after entering the year with a total of six in 462 career games, and played a couple of times at first base. Heck, he even pitched an inning - and got the save!

And it didn't hurt his D at all. He was named Indianapolis' Defensive Player of the Year, and gunned down 25-of-58 runners attempting to steal against him, a 30% toss-out rate.

This year, he was batting .296 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 56 games for Indy before he got the promotion. He should fit into the lineup a bit better than JJ; he provides a solid right-handed bat, the weak side for switch-hitters Jaramillo and Doumit.

And hey, it might just make his summers a little easier, too. As a minor leaguer, Kratz earned a not-too-majestic baseball paycheck for only five months a year. In the offseason, when he returned home, he worked construction and gave private baseball lessons to help keep a roof over the Kratz family heads.

So with the little boost in pay, maybe Kratz will get to spend a summer with his bride Sarah and sons Brayden, 3, and Ethan, who is one.

And in a season of not too many feel-good stories, Erik Kratz has given Pirate fans one to enjoy.


Brad said...

In case you're interested, I shot some video of Kratz a month ago when Indy played Scranton.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Great write-up.

I hope Kratz succeeds. He's an easy guy to root for.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, JP, lotta good guys on the team. Wish there were a few more good ballplayers, though.

And if you want to see Kratz in action, visit the "This Is Getting Old" blog link in Brad's comments.