Kratz on Shank: ‘He’s got what it takes’

By on July 29, 2015

 

Erik Kratz, who has 180 games of big-league experience with four organizations, prepares to step into the batting cage prior to a game with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last Wednesday. (Photo by Mike Shull)

Erik Kratz, who has 180 games of big-league experience with four organizations, prepares to step into the batting cage prior to a game with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last Wednesday. (Photo by Mike Shull)

As a 29th round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, catcher Erik Kratz knows the hard work that it takes to reach the big leagues.

He’s played in 180 games with the Pirates, Phillies, Blue Jays and Royals since 2010, and won the ALCS in Kansas City last October.

“Just work and perseverance and trust that the work you put in is enough,” said Kratz, who caught the likes of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in Philadelphia from 2011-13. “You don’t have the luxury of as many chances, I think, as some people. But you also have to have confidence too. And I’ve been very blessed to have the opportunity to play as long as I have.”

Lititz’s Zach Shank, a 28th-round draft pick of Seattle in 2013, is currently paying his dues with the Mariners. In fact, he was a teammate of Kratz’s earlier in July with the Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League.

Kratz was released by the Mariners on July 15, but signed again two days later with the Phillies’ organization. And although he played just 10 games in Tacoma, it was enough time for him to become a fan of Shank’s.

“I think he can play. He can pick it,” Kratz said last Thursday at Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park prior to a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game. “Offensively, he’s hitting .300 and he’s putting the ball in play real well, he’s putting together good at-bats. He’s got what it takes. He’s got the right work ethic too. He’s a good kid.”

Through his first 20 games at Triple-A, Shank, a 2009 Warwick grad, was indeed batting above the .300 mark. He was still hitting .276 after going 2-for-4 in Tacoma’s game against Salt Lake last Wednesday, but has endured a 1-for-13 slump since.

Still, Kratz wouldn’t be surprised to see Shank playing someday at Seattle’s Safeco Field or one of the other 29 ball parks in the majors.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I like anybody’s chances to make it to the big leagues. And if he gets sent to Double-A next year, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to make the big leagues. It just means it’s the next place where they need him to play. Absolutely, I think he has a good chance. Just as (good) a chance as anybody. You’ve got to produce, and I think for a 28th-rounder, you probably have to produce more often. And that’s obviously what he’s doing this year.”

Kratz isn’t the only person with a connection to Shank within the IronPigs’ organization. Media relations assistant Joe Fitzhenry was a manager for the Marist College baseball team while Shank played for the Red Foxes until graduating in 2013.

Fitzhenry used the comparison of the Boston Red Sox’s Brock Holt, who made the AL All-Star team this summer and, like, Shank has the ability to play a number of different spots on the field.

“(Zach) has a great work ethic, loves the game of baseball, he’s outstanding defensively,” Fitzhenry said. “Shortstop, second base, I know he’s played some outfield in the minors as well. He’s a versatile guy and has a lot of use. I think that’s a very useful position to have because a team is going to want a super utility guy that can play multiple positions. Zach’s a patient hitter as well and I think his defense and versatility are really what makes him valuable.”

While playing in Tacoma, Kratz saw Shank’s impressive work habits not only at the ball park, but away from it as well.

“He was up early going to the gym when I was there, and on the road, and sometimes especially during this time of the season, guys forget that kind of stuff,” Kratz remarked. “And you could tell he was ready to go … Preparing for a game, anybody can come out here and just take ground balls. I can go to third and take ground balls and say, ‘I took my ground balls.’ But the way he goes about it game speed, he’s ready to be in there that night whether he’s in the lineup or not.”

Lititz's Zach Shank was promoted to Seattle's Triple-A club in Tacoma in mid-June. (Photo courtesy of the Tacoma Rainiers)

Lititz’s Zach Shank was promoted to Seattle’s Triple-A club in Tacoma in mid-June. (Photo courtesy of the Tacoma Rainiers)

Kratz, who was the first player drafted out of Eastern Mennonite University, reached the Triple-A level as a 26-year-old when he played 12 games for Syracuse in the International League in 2006.

Shank, at the age of 24, is a little bit younger getting to that rung of the ladder.

“He goes through his work the way you’re supposed to go through it, which is a credit to him and impressive because of his age at Triple-A,” Kratz said. “Normally, that’s the kind of thing that you learn once you get to Triple-A and he has that already. I used to think (age 24) was a young Triple-A guy. I think he’s right on course. I don’t know what the average age is &tstr; probably like 25, 27, somewhere in there. If he was drafted in ‘13, going to Triple-A by now is good. It’s an organization that might not need a second baseman. They’ve got a second baseman locked in for a couple years yet (Robinson Cano is signed through 2023). But utility and there’s 29 other teams too.”

With the Double-A Jackson Generals this season, Shank batted .241 in 25 games. He has improved those numbers with the Rainiers. But as Kratz explained, whether it’s Mike Trout or anybody else, you’re always looking to get better every day.

He offered a unique perspective in one of the big differences between Double-A and Triple-A.

“(Trout) has to improve because if he doesn’t improve, he is just going to stay the same,” Kratz said. “I mean, the same has gotten him MVP’s, but there’s going to be guys that play better, so he’s looking to improve. If he’s hitting .300, he probably wants to hit .320. If he’s hitting .320, he wants to hit .340. You’re always looking to improve and learn new things, and I think that’s what Triple-A does is it’s a time when a younger guy can learn how to mentally compete in the big leagues. I think Double-A is more physically compete because there’s a lot of guys with a lot of talent. But Triple-A, there’s guys that have been to the big leagues and have the same similar mindsets as a big league guy.”

To this point, no Marist College player has ever reached the big league level. In addition to Shank, Fitzhenry points out that the Red Foxes are represented in professional ball right now by Kevin McCarthy (Royals High-A), Steve Laurino (Orioles Single-A), and Jon Schwind (Pirates Double-A).

Fitzhenry, like Kratz, could see Shank getting his opportunity to play in the majors.

“All you need is that one call. All it takes is one injury, a guy misses a couple of games here and there,” Fitzhenry said. “Different stuff like that. I think it’s something that could happen. It’s not going to take much, especially for a team like the Mariners that struggles offensively and really has been this season. Cano was struggling at second base. I mean, if the team’s out of it in September, they could give him a September call-up and see what happens. That’d be an awesome story.”

Catcher Erik Kratz went 3-for-4 with two runs scored in his return to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last Tuesday, July 21 in a win over Toledo. (Photo courtesy of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs)

Catcher Erik Kratz went 3-for-4 with two runs scored in his return to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last Tuesday, July 21 in a win over Toledo. (Photo courtesy of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs)

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