A few days before the California League All-Star game, a ceremony taking place within the Class A Advanced division, Halo Hangout met with a a couple of the LA Angels prospects named All-Stars. Angels prospects Jahmai Jones, Jack Kruger, and Zac Ryan graced the roster with much-needed Angels representation. Most importantly, they represented themselves and their respective team; The Inland Empire 66ers.
When was the last time you saw a LA Angels catcher that had it all? Someone well-rounded enough to have the solid defense paired with a strong bat and some surprise features? Maybe Mike Napoli? I’m not attempting to set out comparisons because these are two completely different players, yet the Angels haven’t had a catcher with such strong dynamics since Mike Napoli. While Napoli had his extraordinary magnitude with his bat, the young Angels catcher Jack Kruger, at the age of 23, has proven his dynamics not in a singular sense, but in every aspect of his game.
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Perhaps that’s why he’s a California League All-Star for the Inland Empire 66ers in his 3rd MiLB season and second with the 66ers. He doesn’t just shine with his bat, despite his offensive production sitting at .298/.378/.389 on the season. Not only does he constantly put wood to the ball and get on base, he’s flying through those base-paths.
Jack Kruger’s ace in the hole is his pure athleticism, not just behind the plate as a catcher, but on the basepaths as a runner and within the box as a hitter. Believe it or not, Kruger currently holds 11 stolen bases with only 3 caught stealing. That’s encouraging for any kid within High A working on their baserunning game, but for a catcher it’s downright impressive. It doesn’t just show extra athletic ability, it displays a determination to get better at the game in every facet.
Jack Kruger #27
H.H: This is your 2nd season with the 66ers and you’ve already blown past your accomplishments from 2017. [2017 Slash Line: .240/.310/.334; 2018 SL: .294/.378/.389]
How are you feeling with the pace of your development?
Kruger: It feels good, just been working with the coaches a lot. Trying to improve in every aspect of the game, we’re happy with the way things are going but there’s still a lot of work to do.
H.H: Catchers aren’t usually known for their base-running, yet you have 11 Stolen Bases on the season. What are you working on that keeps you running so well?
Kruger: Just trying to stay as athletic as possible; it’s hard when you squat a lot, your legs get tired and there’s other factors that go into it. I’d like to stay as athletic as possible and assist the team in whatever way possible. I think the organization sees that too and wants to see if I can grab some extra at-bats.
H.H: What are you working on to maintain your high level of offensive production?
Kruger: Consistency. Working on rhythm and timing with the coaches and trying to maintain that consistency.
High A Slash Line (2 Seasons): .279/.363/.359
As a catcher you have to put in serious conditioning work to keep your body athletic and strong for the long baseball season. Considering the level of play in these professional leagues, you’d have to believe the work he puts in it beyond what’s expected of a ball player; and with that assumption you’d be correct. Jack Kruger knows full well the demands of the catcher position, and outside of that the demands of baseball in every other aspect.
Kruger doesn’t just keep himself conditioned to catch, he prepares himself to handle every little thing the game will throw at him. That includes the art of baserunning; getting your cuts, your timing with the pitcher, settling into a rhythm. In baseball you have to find comfortable rhythms all throughout the game, each rhythm just a little different in what it requires of you.
To be able to alternate rhythms so smoothly shows just how much work the young prospect for the Angels and Catcher for the Inland Empire 66ers puts into his game.
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Fielding Stats (2017-2018): 137 Games Started, .988 Fielding, 29% Caught Stealing
H.H: How does the catching position affect your body over the course of a season, and how do you condition yourself to maintain your level of defensive play?
Kruger: It all starts in the offseason, in terms of conditioning your body it’s the work that you put in during the offseason. The harder you make your offseason the easier the season will be.
As for how the body takes the year there’s obviously wear and tear and fatigue, especially when you start getting into August and reach game 100. Overall it’s mostly mental, and of course the physical aspect is getting in the training room and making sure you’re doing everything possible to stay healthy and stay on the field.
H.H: Which aspect of our game are you most focused on maintaining in the second half?
Kruger: Maintaining? [laughs] Baserunning. We were talking about how the body takes catching over a long period of time. With base running I’d definitely like to continue what I’ve been doing. But as for hitting and catching I’d like to improve upon what I’ve already done.
H.H: Does your recent All-Star bid elevate the expectations you have for yourself?
Kruger: No. That doesn’t have anything to do with the expectations I have for myself. My expectations are higher than that.
H.H: What excites you more as a player, your All-Star bid or the play-off hunt you’re currently engaged in?
Kruger: Playoff hunt for sure. It’s more fun to do with people alongside you. The All-Star game is just a cool little memento, but winning games stays with you for much longer.
Jack Kruger #27
There’s a lot that can be said about a player who believes himself more than what an All-Star bid would say about them. Like fellow All-Star Jahmai Jones, the All-Star game is only a reminder of your purpose and the limits you have to achieve. Just because you aren’t an MiLB All-Star doesn’t mean you don’t have the limits of a star, or even a superstar. However, the fact remains that the All-Star game, at this middle point in a players development, and it’s purpose of showing a player they have the limits of something truly greater, is astounding to see bestowed upon such deserving athletes.
Jack Kruger is someone who may be more important to the Angels organization than one would think at first glance. If you look again what do you see? A player that performs at a high clip? Not just a player, but a catcher. Martin Maldonado is set to leave the organization for the 2019 free agency period, and by then Kruger will only be 24. He still needs to test his development against the Double and Triple A levels of the Minors, of course, yet with the way this season has been going for him, given his current All-Star appearance, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think one more year is all he needs to prepare himself for the challenge of the Bigs.
A season like Kruger’s 2018 first half split across Double and Triple A would more than show he’s ready for the Bigs. That’s not to understate the development still required of him, but it’s also not to overlook the true value he brings to this organization. A catcher who can bring offense to the table in an organization always looking to add hot bats to the lineup and strong-headed players to the game. On top of that he’s a catcher that can control the game without asking you to sacrifice offensively.
Jack Kruger keeps himself strong as catcher, he keeps himself ready as a hitter, he’s as athletic as they come, and most important he keeps himself strong as an overall player. When you really think about it, Jack Kruger is bigger than all of that. Jack Kruger simply keeps himself ready for the Major Leagues.