Mad Max: Pirates Prospect Embraces Aggressive Mindset
Max Kranick didn’t like the feeling when he came out of the game that April 12 night.
He only got two outs against Dunedin, walked three guys and allowed a base hit. His second start of the season ended after just 32 pitches and his Bradenton Marauders teammates were left in a five-run hole before the first inning ended.
“I felt pretty embarrassed leaving the mound,” the Valley View graduate said. “That’s kind of in the back of my head. I don’t want to feel embarrassed. I want to just go out there and pitch my game.”
He went into the next game with a different mindset, one the Pittsburgh Pirates organization started to stress to him last year. Coaches reminded him about it. Even the trainer reminded him of it.
Don’t just touch 95 mph. Sit at 95 mph.
Next start, he threw six scoreless innings against the New York Yankees’ High-A team. They knocked him for just three hits. He hit 97 mph on the radar gun.
“It’s still amazing,” he said. “I went out there that day and after the first inning, I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s all it was?’ Like literally everything was up two miles (per hour).
“I don’t understand it, but I’m just going to keep doing it. It’s working.”
Kranick is three starts into his High-A career. He has a 3.38 ERA in 10⅔ innings and is holding hitters to a .162 average.
“I’ve felt good,” the 21-year-old said. “First and second game, command wasn’t great, but we looked at the video and made a little bit of a mechanical adjustment and everything feels great now. I feel completely back to normal. My delivery got more efficient, which is good. So, now I think I’m in a good spot to move forward and take the ball every fifth day.”
This is his fourth season in professional baseball. He’s shown he can handle it — Kranick has a 3.01 ERA for his career. At this point, it’s about refinement, like tinkering with pitches or changing them altogether. Or embracing that new aggressiveness.
“I would say this is probably the right time, just because your first couple years is just getting your feet wet in pro ball and understanding the full-season workload and the toll it takes on your body,” he said.
First up, he dumped his curveball for a slider. Being a three-quarter thrower, it’s hard to stay on top of a curve. It’s hard to keep it consistent, keep it from backing up or just flipping out of his hand. A slider feels more natural.
It’s not as easy as just moving where your fingers are on the seams. It’s a long process. Kranick started working on it during the 2017-18 offseason, and he didn’t get it consistent until June. The last 20 tosses in his daily throwing, that’s when he’s able to work on the pitch.
Feeling it spin off his middle finger.
Feeling it spin off his thumb.
If it’s rotating the right way, he knows it will be good when he takes it to the mound.
“I still want him to just grip it and rip it, basically,” said Joel Hanrahan, the former Pirates closer and Kranick’s pitching coach at Low-A West Virginia last year. “It’s more of a swing-and-miss pitch for me, and I think that’s what it’s going to be for him. The more you use it, the more you play with it, then you’re going to get that throw-it-over-for-a-strike pitch.”
It looked good in his first start this year against the St. Lucie Mets. It dived out of the zone and into the dirt when he wanted it to. It settled in the zone for a strike when he wanted it to. He struck out seven in four innings.
With the slider coming along and two fastballs he’s happy with — he’s still working on throwing his two-seamer to the glove side, firing it inside against lefties — it’s on to the changeup.
“It’s just been kind of a frustrating process,” Kranick said. “I’m not a very patient guy. I want results right now. That’s the same thing as the slider. I’ve been throwing it every single day in throwing program. Trying to get a feel for it.”
Since he arrived at spring training this year, he’s already changed the grip twice.
The organization’s original recommendation for how to throw it produced good action. It just wasn’t comfortable. He couldn’t throw it for strikes.
The second was a more traditional circle change. That one was too firm. Too fast at 88 mph. That wouldn’t work either.
The newest one is days old. It’s a product of something the analytics staff determined.
“They said that the guys with the best changeups, their last finger to touch the ball is their ring finger, which makes a lot of sense,” Kranick said. “They said even the guys with good changeups, the changeups that don’t move, it touches their middle finger last, like it just stays straight on them. But the ring finger is what forces it to have the action, too.”
Speed differential and movement. That’s what he’s looking for. Now, it’s about trusting the grip. That’ll take some time still.
Sometime around the all-star break last year, Hanrahan left the team to work the Futures Game. Scott Elarton, the former big leaguer, came to West Virginia to fill in, and it overlapped with one of Kranick’s starts.
Elarton told him to go out and pitch angry that day.
He struck out nine in 5⅓ innings against Delmarva. Allowed just one run.
“It was a pretty good day,” Kranick said.
His ERA in the second half of the season was more than a run lower than it was in the first.
“Everything plays up,” Kranick said. “My fastball plays up, my offspeed’s much better, I’m more efficient.”
It’s a delicate balance, pitching mad. You can’t let a base hit throw you off your game. You can’t let hitters see your emotions.
“You don’t want to be too amped up, because especially as a starter, you’re going to be out in the second inning because you’re going to air it out in the first,” Kranick said. “You’re going to have nothing left. So, there has to be some sort of pace that you set to start the game.”
He’s still trying to figure out that balance. If pitching mad keeps getting the kind of results it’s been getting, he’ll figure it out.
“(Last year) I saw a guy that’s growing up a little bit,” Hanrahan said. “He’s getting stronger, bigger. In his game, that important factor of his confidence. I think the older he’s getting, the more aggressive he’s getting as a pitcher. His breaking ball came a long way this year. And he just went out there and pitched like a man.”
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