As Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias told us last week in this interview, one key stat to help size up pitching prospects is strikeouts. Elias believes that stat can show dominance and tell us much about a pitcher’s ability.
Said Elias: “It just speaks to the quality of your stuff and the quality of your skill relative to your competitors. It’s not perfect, but it’s probably the most stable and one of the most trustworthy stats in terms of how good a pitcher’s stuff and ability are at that point in time. We put a lot of meaning into our strikeout rates.”
That number on the stat sheet may be one reason why 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer got a non-roster invite last week to major league spring training. Kremer fanned 178 batters over 131 1/3 innings last year and that led all of the minor leagues. No pitcher struck out more anywhere on the farm.
Kremer went 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA in 25 starts last season between the Dodgers and Orioles organizations. He came to the Birds in the Manny Machado deal. He had a strong eight-start run for Double-A Bowie, going 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA. Before the trade, he made 16 starts at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, moved up to Double-A Tulsa for one start and then landed in the Eastern League with Bowie after the deal.
So he came to a new organization and moved up a level, but just kept pitching well.
“There was definitely an adjustment period,” Kremer said Saturday at FanFest. “I didn’t pitch for about two weeks between outings around the trade. The downtime made for an adjustment period that I went through. But kept reminding myself to just keep doing what I had been going before the trade. The game is the game.”
Kremer became the first Israeli citizen drafted when San Diego took him in the 38th round in 2015 and the first to sign with a pro team when the Dodgers paid him $147,500 as a 14th-rounder out of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2016. Kremer, who has dual citizenship, has extensive experience pitching with Israeli national teams since 2014 and worked an inning in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
He is ranked as the Orioles’ No. 9 prospect by Baseball America and FanGraphs.com and No. 16 by MLBPipeline.com. He throws his fastball often between 90 and 94 mph, touching 95 and 96 mph. His mid-70s curveball was a big pitch for him in 2018. He would often use his breaking ball early in counts to help him get ahead and put away hitters with the curve and also elevate his fastball.
And that strikeout total sure can get your attention. He has averaged 11.44 per nine innings in three years on the farm. He averaged 12.20 last season and that number was 10.52 with Bowie.
Kremer said some work he did with the Dodgers last March - more about the mental side of the game - served him well.
“During spring training last year, I worked really hard getting back into to what I was doing well before the previous year (2017). And kind of just keeping myself able to repeat that again and again every outing,” he said. “I went out in 2018 with a different mindset from 2017. A more aggressive mindset toward hitters. I wasn’t pitching scared. Whatever happens is going to happen, so that’s how it went.
“I wouldn’t say my stuff is overpowering by any means, but definitely last year in spring, we worked on pitch sequencing and learning pitch combos. How each pitch plays off each other and the different bat paths. And how hitters react to each pitch. And that is kind of what I took into account. It was less about scouting reports and more trusting my eyes.”
Kremer said there are certainly times when he gets ahead in the count that he looks for a swing and miss pitch.
“If any pitcher told you with two strikes they were not going for a strikeout, they were probably lying to you,” he said. “But if I had 0-1 or 0-2, 1-2, then, yeah, I’d probably go for the punchout versus 2-2 or 3-2. Then it’s more like, all right, I just need an out.”
Kremer’s 2018 season may be even more impressive after hearing his interview on Saturday. He said two of his four pitches were not locked in during the season as well as he would have liked.
“Right now, I’m working on my slider and changeup that were inconsistent last year. Trying to make them better. You can’t be a two-pitch starter and stick in the big leagues,” the right-hander said.
An obviously cerebral pitcher, next up for Kremer is a look at what the Orioles will have to offer him on the analytics side.
“I’m big into the new analytics and I like to see the data that I produce, with how my pitches play off each other,” he said. “I’m big into that. From what I hear, the new GM is also into that coming over from the Astros. So I’m definitely excited to continue to work with that.”
Here is a look at some strikeout/nine innings rates for O’s on the farm last year:
12.20 - Dean Kremer
10.99 - Zac Lowther
10.60 - DL Hall
9.28 - Keegan Akin
9.00 - Yefry Ramírez
8.13 - Matthias Dietz
7.77 - Luis Ortiz
7.68 - Brian Gonzalez
7.44 - John Means
7.34 - Jimmy Yacabonis
7.30 - Michael Baumann
7.09 - Cameron Bishop
7.01 - Dillon Tate
6.91 - Cristian Alvarado
6.73 - Alex Wells
6.51 - Josh Rogers
5.80 - Brenan Hanifee
We took only starters into account and pitchers for full-season teams. But the Orioles’ 2018 top pick, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, did average 9.31 per nine in 19 1/3 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
New coach on the farm: The Orioles are turning to a local college coach for help in their minor leagues, according to this story from J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. He reports they have hired Tom Eller from Harford Community College as a minor league hitting coach. Eller’s teams led all National Junior College Athletic Association teams (that is over 170 teams) in walks four straight seasons while finishing in the top three in extra-base hits all four years and the top three in homers three times.