MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — When you’re working your way through the minor leagues as a high-round draft pick, you tend to bounce around. Indianapolis Indians infielder Kevin Kramer said he knows that to be true.
Since being taken in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Kramer has only had one season where he played all year with the same team. He surged through Short-A (West Virginia Black Bears) and Low-A (West Virginia Power) in 2015 before playing a full season at High-A Bradenton in 2016. In 2017, he went back to Short-A before moving to Double-A and then played a game of Rookie ball. He began 2018 in Indy before being called up to the Pirates in September. This year, he’s already been up to the bigs and sent back down.
A 25-year-old California native, Kramer said he’s focused on staying even-keeled and perfecting his game, despite sometimes not being able to fully settle in.
“That situation is also valuable, because the end goal is to be a starting big leaguer and not many guys just walk into starting roles. You've got to be able to adjust on the fly,” Kramer said before a game against Louisville last week. “That’s what this game is. We have to pride ourselves on making those adjustments and being baseball players.”
Kramer was called-up to Pittsburgh on April 11 this year but was optioned back to the Indians on April 16. Before being called up, he was on a six-game hitting streak with four doubles and two RBIs. After he came back, he went hitless in his first four games.
“If you go from playing every day to not playing every day, that becomes tough to transition into,” Kramer said. “All of us have always played every day, but obviously there’s only seven spots on the field minus the pitcher and catcher. If you go from playing every day to a bench role back to playing every day, it’s an adjustment, and it’s one guys have to get used to bouncing up and down. We’d all love for it to be a smooth transition, but that’s not always the case.”
Since that brief, four-game hitless streak, Kramer has notched 30 hits in his next 85 at-bats, good enough for a .353 average. He also drove in 20 runs, smacked 10 doubles and lifted four balls over the outfield wall during that stretch.
Kramer said he doesn’t view feats like a hitless streak as a slump, though.
“It’s just part of the game. There’s going to be times where you’re hot, and there’s going to be times you’re cold,” he said. “Me, I’m a pretty consistent mindset-type guy. I try to be the same guy every day regardless of if I’m getting hits or not. All you can really do is control the swing you put on pitches. If you’re putting in the right type of work, it’s going to play. Just because it doesn't go the way you want it to a certain day, if you’re putting in the right work it’ll pay off in the long run.”
Kramer’s work has paid off so far, at least at the minor-league level. He’s been hovering around a .300 average at every level of the minors, has hit 30 career minor-league home runs to go with 104 doubles and 12 triples while driving in 184 runs in 398 games. His minor-league slash line sits at .293/.364/.439.
Right now, Kramer said he’s working on barreling up the ball better.
“It’s just about being on time and letting my line strength play, and drive the ball with authority. When I’m swinging, I want to be able to barrel the ball; I don't want to be swinging and missing much,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve realized is important, especially trying to get your game ready to be a big-leaguer. They don't make many mistakes up there, and when they do you have to take advantage of them. You don’t know how many pitches you're going to get or how many pitches you're realistically going to be able to drive.”
Kramer said even though he doesn’t think the game of baseball is geared toward a guy hitting for power and average right now, he believes he can bring both to the table.
“I can drive the ball pretty well and hit a lot of doubles and homers, but I also still feel like I’m able to have a pretty high average,” he said. “I always feel like I’m a guy that can do a little bit of everything. I’m not limiting myself to one thing. I’m not just a contact guy, or only a power guy. I feel like I can blend those worlds together. I want to be a guy who can drive in runs and hit the ball over the fence, and then also drive it into the gaps.”
Defensively, he’s just working on being versatile. Last year, the Pirates used him at both second and third, and he’s played both of those and shortstop at the minor-league level. Being versatile brings opportunity, he said.
“It’s one of those things where I don't want to limit myself. I want to put the team in position to put me anywhere and be confident that I’m going to go out and provide solid defense,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you want to give yourself more opportunities.”
As his game progresses, Kramer said he wants to be ready for whatever’s thrown at him. Though he doesn’t know what that will be on a daily basis, he goes about his preparation the same way.
“I think it’s important for guys to listen to their body and adjust their work day to that. There’s some days where you can get a lot of work in, but some days you just have to be a little smarter and limit your usage,” he said. “Preparation wise, you’ve got to know what you need that day, now what you want to accomplish that day so you can go out at 7 o’clock and just compete.”
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