For years the Pittsburgh Pirates’ have gone heavy on young RHP in the MLB June amateur draft every year and 2016 was no different. That year the Pirates drafted 17 young RHP out of their 40 available picks. The fifth of his kind, Max Kranick was drafted in the 11th Round (340 overall) out of Valley View High School in Archbald, PA, a small suburb outside Scranton. It should be noted that the Pirates liked this young man so much that they paid him triple the slot value at the time for a player selected after the 10th round, $300,000.
Immediately after being drafted, Kranick a 6’3” 175 lb heater-throwing right hander was sent to the GCL Pirates of the Gulf Coast Rookie League, were he performed extremely well for being a full 2 and half years younger than average in that league. Kranick appeared in 9 games, starting 6 of them, while posting a 2.43 ERA, a 1.050 WHIP and 21K/4BB in 33.1 innings. In spite of this strong start to his professional career he was once again sent to the GCL Pirates to begin his first full season of pro-ball. This time around he improved in every area except for WHIP (1.263) as he did not allow any earned runs and struck out 9 batters in 12.1 innings.
After only 3 games, all of which he started, he was sent to play for the Bristol Pirates (Pittsburgh’s Rookie League affiliate) of the Appalachian League. Due to ongoing issues with shoulder fatigue, Kranick would only go on to appear in 2 games the remainder of the 2017 season. However, he was impressive in both of his appearances; striking out 9 batters in 11.2 innings, while sporting a 2.30 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.
After resting, rehabbing and conditioning in between the 2017 and 2018 Kranick came out for his second full season, with something to prove; granted he was held back from reporting to the team until late May. The Pirates assigned him to the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh’s Low A/Full Season Affiliate up through 2018) of the South Atlantic League. Kranick had similar success to what he had experienced the previous years, but this year was different as he appeared in almost as many games (17) as he had the previous 2 years combined (19). His ERA rose a little to 3.81, his strike out numbers continued to improve by sitting down 77 batters in 78 innings (a rate of 8.9 per 9 innings) and his WHIP (1.154) leveled out to where it had been in previous years.
To begin the 2019 season it was originally believed that the Pirates would continue to manage his workload and kept him down in Low A for the second season in a row with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh’s New Low A/Full Season Affiliate) of the South Atlantic League. Just prior to the season a decision was made to send Kranick to the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh’s High A/Advanced Affiliate) of the Florida State League, so that he could attend extended spring training with the team. Kranick once again participated in a full season, this time starting all 20 games he appeared in and pitching a career high 109.1 innings. All in all his season was a little like a rollercoaster as he came out on fire in April, cooled off in May, got things back together in June and fell off again in July. He did finish the season on a high note as he allowed only 2 hits and struck out 4 batters in 5.1 innings against the St. Lucie Mets on July 26. He ended the year sporting a 3.79 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP, but his strike out rate dropped a full 2.5 batters per nine innings to 6.4.
So where should the Pirates #23 Prospect start his 2020 campaign? Well this is a pretty tough decision. The young man, who will turn 23 in the middle of the season, is surrounded by tough competition on his own team from last year in Bradenton. #25 Prospect Aaron Shortridge had a strong campaign, as did Brad Case following his midseason promotion from Greensboro. He also has some talented pitchers blocking his path; especially the Pirates #13 Prospect Cody Bolton, who successfully completed his promotion to the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh’s AA Affiliate) of the Eastern League during the season last summer.
One route that Kranick could take is following the reliever route due to his above average fastball (55 Grade) which tops out at 96 mph and a solid slider (50 Grade). Another route could be to continue to develop his changeup (45 Grade), which is considered to be a work in progress and push through as a starter, while attempting to overtake the stiff competition around him.
I would prefer to see Kranick progress through the system and not spend a second year with the Marauders. I do not see how this would be beneficial for him and his advancement was already stunted by the shoulder fatigue he experienced during the 2017 season. I would also like to see how Joel Hanrahan (Altoona’s Pitching Coach) decided to proceed with this young man. He has shown the ability to successfully transition starters into the bullpen and graduate others to the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh’s AAA Affiliate) of the International League. If the Pirates believe that he is going to be up with Altoona at some point during the 2020 season, which is what I believe, I see no benefit in delaying this decision.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement