It was late August 2012, the Phillies were in Atlanta with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th. Braves SS Paul Janish hit a blooper to center, sending the 6'4 230 pound Chipper Jones barreling towards home. Mayberry laced the throw right to Kratz, with no time to react Chipper smashed into Kratz almost simultaneously as the ball arrived. It was an impressive hit with an even better catch by Erik Kratz! Kratzy didn't even seem to blink, popped up and showed the ball to Doc. It was right then and there that Kratz earned his red pinstripes. The Phillie phaithful were impressed. It doesn't hurt that it happened against the disdained Chipper Jones, Laaarrrryyy!!
When the Phillies signed journeyman Erik Kratz to a minor league deal prior to the 2011 season it didn't make much of a splash. Before his promotion to the majors in 2012 most Phillies phans didn't have a clue as to who this guy was. Not since his record breaking days playing ball for Eastern Mennonite University has Kratz entered a season with his name projected to be on the Opening Day lineup card. Opening Day 2013 is something that Kratz is not taking lightly.
“I’ve never gone into a spring training going, ‘Man, it’s going to be great going to the minor leagues!’ I always go in thinking I’m going to make the team, that I can show them. And maybe that’s naïve, but that’s just how I’ve always gone into it, even when I’ve been the first cut in camp.”
Erik Kratz has never quite expereinced a spring training like this one. After being drafted in the 39th round of the 2002 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. Kratz spent the next 7 seasons in the Blue Jays minor league system, never quite cracking the big league club. Before 2012 Kratz had never played more than 9 games in the Major Leagues. In 2012 after injuries plagued Carlos Ruiz and backup catcher Brian Schneider, Kratz got his chance to really prove he belonged.
In 2011, with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Kratz played in 103 games, hitting .288 with 15 homeruns 53 rbi's, 56 runs scored, and 19 doubles. Career highs in BA, runs, and RBI's for the career minor leaguer.
In 2012 Kratz provided the Phillies with a small sample size of big league productivity. In 50 games he showed Ruben and Charlie that they may have found their new backup catcher. Little did they know they would be looking for a starting catcher come April 1st.
In 50 games with the Phillies in 2012 Kratz hit .248 with an OPS of .809. With 141 AB's Kratz drove in 26 runs with 9 homeruns and 9 doubles. He wasn't a slouch defensively either. Kratz allowed 18 stolen bases while throwing out 15, a caught stealing percentage of 45%. The league average in 2012 was 27%. The 45% CSP would put Kratz among the top 5 in the league. Carlos Ruiz's 2012 CSP was 34%.
“He’s worked a long time to get to the big leagues,” Manuel said of Kratz. “And he’s definitely earned his way here. Our pitchers got used to him last year, and that experience was good for him. He is a good defensive catcher, throws the ball good, and he can hit the ball out of the yard. It’s good to have Kratzy right now.”
A lot is expected of those who play behind the plate at the major league level. Instincts, competetivness, toughness, poise and leadership. Fielding and throwing are the tools that most scouts look for first from a catcher. A productive offensive catcher is icing on the cake. Catching is a demanding position. Catchers are required to know 1st and 3rd defenses and when someone is running, be able to make plays, call pitches and process what is going on and to be able to do this while having the physical skills and durability to play everyday.
At 6'4 255 pounds Kratz is a force to be reckoned with. As a catcher home plate collissions are part of the job and ultimately give credence to how tough of a player you truly are. As witness to his play at the play last season we can see the toughness in Kratz. That is all we ask out of a player who dons the red pinstripes. Play hard. It was his play behind the plate that caught the eye of skipper Charlie Manuel. His bat did some talking as well.
Kratz made 24 starts, while Chooch was on the DL and hit .271 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. The Phillies went 15-9 in his starts, including 6-0 when he homered. Many of Kratzy's homers came in clutch situations. The last homerun he hit during Ruiz’s DL stint was a solo shot to lead off the ninth inning against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who had a 1.01 ERA and allowed just 27 hits in 621 innings for the season. The Phillies would win that game in 10 innings during a late season push for the last wild card spot.
It is not an easy task filling in for Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz. Chooch has catuplutled himself to rock star status and phan favorite in Philly. That being said, Kratz took full advantage of his opportunity to play in 2012. There is no doubt that while Chooch is serving his 25 game suspsension for amphetamines, Kratz will continue to shine in 2013.
Check out the erik Kratz vs. Larry collision below!