When the Pirates took Kevin Newman in the first round of the 2015 Draft and Kramer a round later, the hope was that both would develop to form half of the Pirates’ infield in Pittsburgh. For much of their collective development, it looked like that would pan out, but while Newman has started to establish himself as a big league regular, Kramer has stalled out a bit in Triple-A while not producing particularly well in two September callups.
Kramer started climbing the ladder initially because of a strong feel to hit and an ability to make consistent contact. More power started to come in 2017 and he added leverage to his swing to start clearing fences more in 2018. Even though his 2019 season was rather pedestrian, he still did bang out 41 extra-base hits in just under 400 at-bats. His approach has regressed a bit at the same time with an uptick in strikeouts, though his walk rate crept back up last season.
An average runner, Kramer has made himself more valuable by playing multiple positions. Second base is still his best position, but he’s added in third and even the outfield of late and is even capable of filling in at short if needed. A super-utility role is probably his best path to a big league career at this point.
Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
The Pirates took college infielders with two of their first three picks in the 2015 Draft. The first was Kevin Newman, taken in the first round out of Arizona. The second was Kramer, selected in the second round out of UCLA. A broken hand interrupted a strong '17 season and Kramer's power started showing up in '18, leading to him joining Newman in the big leagues for the first time.
For the first two years of his pro career, Kramer used a contact-oriented approach to rise up to the upper levels of the system. He started tapping into his extra-base thump in 2017 before he got hurt and leveraged his swing more to clear more fences in '18. With that came more strikeouts, but that's not something the Pirates see as a huge red flag. Kramer does need to work on his game plan more, as he does tend to guess at the plate too much. While he's played all three infield positions, he'll continue to see most of his playing time at second base, though he's fine at third with an arm that's bounced back to average.
While still in the Minors, he'd have to play second over the hot corner in deference to the other top pick from 2015, Ke'Bryan Hayes, who was the high schooler taken between Newman and Kramer. All three could impact the big league infield in '19 and beyond.
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 40 | Run: 50 | Arm: 45 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
Kramer was a shortstop during his career at UCLA, but most foresaw a move to second base largely because of labrum surgery in 2014. The Pirates liked his offensive potential, regardless of his defensive future, enough to take him in the second round of the 2015 Draft. He was having a bit of a breakout in Double-A in 2017 when a broken hand in June kept him out until the end of the of the Eastern League playoffs. Making up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League, he got the chance to move back to shortstop.
Kramer has a very solid approach from the left side of the plate, controlling the strike zone well and barreling up the baseball consistently, all of which points to a future of hitting for average and posting solid on-base numbers. Before the hand injury, he started tapping into his raw power a little more consistently and looked like the kind of hitter the Pirates thought he was when they drafted him, one who could bang out 12-15 homers annually. An average runner, Kramer's range is somewhat limited, but he is sure-handed and he didn't commit an error at short in Arizona.
For Kramer to be an everyday player, it will likely be at second base. But his ability to play multiple positions could get him to the big leagues faster, with a floor of being a very valuable left-handed hitting utilityman.
Though Kramer starred as UCLA's shortstop, even after having a torn labrum repaired in 2014, there was a sense he'd have to change positions as a pro. He's found a new home at second base, leading some to see a Neil Walker-type profile in the future.
The Pirates feel Kramer brings the same blue collar mentality to the game as Walker does. He also has a similar defensive skillset, with similar average range, but with sure hands that catch everything he gets to. Kramer has an advanced approach at the plate and controls the zone well, consistently barreling up the ball from the left side of the plate. The one thing that hasn't shown up much yet is power, as he's much more focused on his hitting than his pop, but he can lift the ball to the pull side on occasion with a ceiling of 12-15 homers annually.
Kramer's bat started to come, with more extra-base pop, with the move to Double-A in 2017, though his breakout was interrupted by a broken hand in June. He has the chance to be a solid, if unspectacular, everyday second baseman.
Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 40 | Run: 50 | Arm: 45 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
During his career at UCLA and his pro debut after the Pirates selected him in the second round of the 2015 Draft, Kramer has moved all over the dirt. He played third during the early stages of his college career, eventually moving to shortstop in 2015. The Pirates had him play second more than anything else, but regardless of where he plays, it's his bat they were buying.
Kramer can flat-out hit, with an advanced approach at the plate. He knows the strike zone well, works at-bats into good hitter's counts and consistently gets the barrel to the ball. He has some extra-base ability with the chance to have 12-15 home run power from the left side of the plate. Kramer missed the 2014 season at UCLA with a shoulder injury that required surgery and there was some question whether his arm would play from short long term. The Pirates will continue to give time there, mostly to develop some flexibility, with the thought that he likely ends up at second base full-time in the future.
Kramer hit his way to full-season ball at the end of his summer debut, a sign that his offensive profile might allow him to move quickly. If it all clicks, he could develop into a Neil Walker-ish offensive-minded second baseman.