Can LA Angels prospect Jack Kruger establish himself in Spring Training?
By Ryan Falla
The LA Angels catching situation is in a bit of a transitional period, there are really no clear-cut long-term guys aboard. The free agent market for catchers was a bit thin this year so it’s understandable the Angels couldn’t bring in anyone long-term to man the backstop.
However, the LA Angels may not need to search on the market for their future catcher when they have the perfect option waiting in the minors.
The free agent market is always hit or miss; you win some, you lose some, but at the end of the day you can’t get caught up in the chaotic nature of free agency. Great teams sign great players, but the best teams develop their own greatness from within. On that note, the Angels may very well have their catcher of the future knocking on the big league door.
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Jack Kruger has spent the last three seasons within the Angels developmental system after being drafted by the Angels in the 20th round of the 2016 draft. The 2018 season saw Kruger play through a breakout season that saw him elevate his game beyond that of a future run-of-the-mill backstop.
The real secret to Kruger’s improvements over the course of a few seasons comes from the simple factor of an increased importance and refinement of behind-the-plate athleticism. Speaking to Kruger earlier in the 2018 season revealed his intentions on improving his athletic state with a focus on keeping his lower body limber throughout the season.
You can see the benefits of his improved catching athleticism in the strangest spots, though that only speaks volumes to how his focused development impacts all of his game. In 2017 we saw Kruger collect just 2 stolen bases while being caught once, which seems pretty standard for a catcher.
This all changed in 2018 when we saw Kruger’s stolen base rate jump astronomically to 13 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Seeing a catcher receive 18 attempts to steal is both a rarity and a testament to how much his coaches trust in his athleticism and agility. Fifteen stolen bases is a good number for most positional players, but for a catcher it’s outright astounding. It’s All-Star caliber athleticism.
Wouldn’t you know it, Jack Kruger was honored as a Cal League All-Star (a league in which Class A Advanced MiLB teams play) in the 2018 season. His dynamic play was notable all across the board; he fielded at a .991 rate with a 9.24 Range Factor per Game while swinging together a .299/.357/.413 slash line.
Regarding his Range Factor per Game, that 9.24 clip would sit just outside the MLB Top 5 Catchers in RF/G for 2018. This is a great stat for translating Kruger’s defensive ability in the MiLB to the Majors because it simply tells the rate at which a player is able to involve themselves in out-producing plays.
Jack Kruger saw 431 Plate Appearances in 2018 compared to 2017s 454 PA’s, yet at the same time Kruger collected more RBI’s (2017: 39 RBIs, 2018: 40 RBIs), doubles (2017: 17 2Bs, 2018: 22 2Bs), Hits (2017: 97 Hits, 2018: 118 Hits), and HR’s (2017: 5 HRs, 2018: 7 HR’s). What’s most interesting is that most of his power production came after a promotion to Double A, which was his first experience at the Double A level. Regardless he upped his slugging to .443 in 174 At-Bats compared to his Class A Advanced slugging of .389 in Class A Advanced (where he was named an All-Star).
There’s a lot to be excited about with Kruger; not only does he have incredible athleticism for a catcher, he constantly finds ways to elevate himself as the game elevates around him. This brings a lot of confidence regarding his development on the way to the Majors, in fact this Spring Training will be a big test regarding his ability to elevate himself in regards to the corresponding landscape.
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We will need to express patience with Kruger because he still needs time at the Triple A level to get some final seasoning in before being able to truly test his mettle against the MLB. Yet from what we’ve seen so far there is no reason to find doubt in his ability to do so. He constantly proves his ability to adjust himself against the rising tides of the game and maintain, or even elevate, his ability to succeed.
That being said it’s very reasonable to believe that Spring Training will provide Kruger the opportunity to see just how high the competitive tide rises and begin his adjustments to that level. I can’t guarantee Kruger will immediately adjust to the competition in Spring Training and blossom instantly, but what I can guarantee is Kruger taking that knowledge back to the Minors and using it to create a new, more envisioned benchmark for success.
It’s unlikely he’ll make the team out of Spring Training unless he absolute blows everyone’s minds day in and day out, but in baseball it is true that anything can happen.
Is Jack Kruger the catcher of the Angels future? It’s very likely, but at the same time it’s not something we can bank on just yet. The looks he’ll receive in Spring Training will make clearer the idea of where Kruger stands regarding his development.
From there we’ll see how he adjusts to the Triple A level, after that it’ll either be full-speed ahead for Kruger or it’ll be time to re-evaluate the Angels internal catching situation.
Personally? I’m looking forward to seeing the Angels go full-speed with Jack Kruger, the highly gifted All-Star catcher of the Angels future who has already proven himself to be an All-Star.