Erik Kratz

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Erik Floyd Kratz

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Biographical Information[edit]

Erik Kratz played nine seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 15th, 2010. He was expected to be a backup for Ryan Doumit for the balance of the season, replacing Jason Jaramillo, but Doumit was injured with a concussion a few days after his call-up, handing Kratz the starting job.

Kratz set a NCAA Division III record for doubles in a career. The Toronto Blue Jays took him in the 29th round of the 2002 amateur draft. He debuted with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays, batting .275/.318/.394. In 2003, he was with the Auburn Doubledays (.312/.411/.503), Charleston AlleyCats (6 for 19, 3 2B, BB) and New Haven Ravens (0 for 4).

Kratz played only 29 games for 3 teams in 2004, despite a solid .299/.343/.443 with 11 doubles overall. He said he was on the phantom disabled list with imaginary shin injuries so that the Jays didn't need to keep him active. He considered retiring from baseball but stayed around. In '05, the Telford native produced at a .205/.283/.353 rate with 11 homers in 292 AB for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats as their primary catcher.

Kratz batted .225/.290/.332 in 71 games for the Fisher Cats, backing up Curtis Thigpen in 2006. He also was 10 for 40 with five walks, 2 doubles and a homer in 12 games that year for the Syracuse SkyChiefs in his AAA debut. That season, Erik again contemplated retirement. In 2007, he hit .250/.317/.506 in 49 games for New Hampshire with 8 homers in 160 AB and .214/.273/.366 in 35 games for Syracuse with 5 home runs in 112 AB.

In 2008, Erik slammed 16 homers in 247 AB between New Hampshire (.245/.347/.500 in 33 G) and Syracuse (.234/.287/.510 in 40 G). Despite posting impressive power numbers, he continued to be used in a part-time role, leading him to consider retirement for a third time.

A free agent, Erik signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for 2009. They assigned him to the AAA Indianapolis Indians and gave him a regular role, especially after Robinzon Diaz was traded. Kratz hit .273/.337/.470 for the 2009 Indians with 30 doubles and 11 home runs in 309 AB. He was one double behind team leader Neil Walker. He tied Shelley Duncan, Jesus Feliciano and Mike Hessman for 10th in the International League for doubles. He played for the IL in the 2009 AAA All-Star Game and starred, with a double and 2-run homer to win MVP honors. Kratz also was named the IL All-star catcher at year's end.

Through 2009, Kratz had a career batting line of .250/.318/.427 in 555 games. He has fielded .993 at catcher and also pitched four games, allowing four runs in five innings.

In spring training 2010, the Pirates talked about keeping Kratz as their backup to Ryan Doumit, in order to give Jason Jaramillo more regular action at AAA instead of riding the pine in the majors. The Bucs opted against this plan and decided to go with Jaramillo in the majors and Kratz at AAA to start the season. On April 26, Kratz pitched a scoreless inning for Indianapolis and it was not in a blowout - in the bottom of the 15th inning, he entered with a 7-6 lead over the Louisville Bats with the Indians out of pitchers. He kept the Bats from rallying to give Indianapolis the win. Kratz hit .296/.396/.550 in his first 56 games for the Indians that year and again made the AAA All-Star Game.

Kratz was called up to the majors after the All-Star break in 2010, replacing Jaramillo as the backup to Ryan Doumit. He made his debut on July 17th, going 2 for 5 with an RBI against the Houston Astros. He popped up against Bud Norris in his first at-bat, then singled in the 5th for his first MLB hit. On July 21, Doumit suffered a concussion and had to be placed on the disabled list, making Kratz the starter in the majors, with Jaramillo his back-up. However, he went hitless in his next 14 at-bats, putting that plan into question, and was sent down shortly thereafter, after batting .118/.167/.118 in 9 games.

Kratz became a free agent and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2011 season, but only played two games in the majors that year, going 2 for 6. The rest of the year was spent with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs where he hit a solid .288 with 19 doubles and 15 homers. In 2012, he hit .266 in 37 games for the IronPigs before getting the call to Philadelphia. This time, he stayed for an extended period, playing 50 games during which he hit .258 with 9 doubles and 9 homers. He returned as the team's primary back-up behind Carlos Ruiz in 2013, hitting .213 in 68 games, with 7 doubles and 9 homers. On December 3rd, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays along with P Rob Rasmussen in return for P Brad Lincoln; the Blue Jays had just non-tendered their starting catcher, J.P. Arencibia, the day before, and were looking to add some depth at the position. He ended up spending the first half of the 2014 season with Toronto, hitting .198 with 3 homers and 10 RBIs in 34 games, then was traded to the Kansas City Royals, along with P Liam Hendriks, in return for 3B Danny Valencia, on July 28th. With Kansas City, he hit .276 in 13 games as a back-up to Salvador Perez and was not used in the postseason.

Kratz went to spring training with the Royals in 2015 and made the team, but he was only used in 4 games, going 0 for 4, before being injured and eventually sent down to the AAA Omaha Storm Chasers in early May. There he hit .214 in 15 games and was placed on waivers in mid-June, being claimed by the Boston Red Sox. However, he was granted free agency only a week later and signed with the Seattle Mariners on June 29th. He played 10 games for Seattle's AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, hitting .205 before being released on July 15th. He then signed with the Phillies and he finally got a bit of playing time. He played 26 games for Lehigh Valley, hitting a solid .312 with 8 doubles and 3 homers to earn a late-season look with the big league club. He finished that nomadic season by hitting .227 in 12 games in the City of Brotherly Love. Before the 2016 season, he was signed as a free agent by the San Diego Padres and went to spring training with them, but on March 28th, he moved yet again, being traded to the Houston Astros in return for P Dan Straily. He played 15 games for Houston, going 2 for 29 (.069) before being released on May 22nd. A week later, he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who assigned him to the AAA Salt Lake Bees. He was there for only 12 games, during which he hit .231, when he moved again, being purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates, his first big league team, on June 11th after starting catcher Francisco Cervelli was placed on the disabled list with a broken hand. On June 21, 2016 Kratz became the first person since 1879 to both pitch and catch in a game for two different teams in the same season.

After hitting a combined .094 in 32 games in 2016, his career appeared over - but the best was yet to come. After spending most of 2017 in AAA but going 2 for 2 in his four games with the New York Yankees, he was back in his familiar role of back-up catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. He played 67 games that year, just one less than his career high set back in 2013, splitting time with Manny Pina. He got the opportunity to play that much because Stephen Vogt, who was supposed to share catching duties with Pina, went down with a shoulder injury that cost him the entire season. He hit .236 with 6 homers and 23 RBIs for the the Brewers, who ended up with the best record in the National League. On October 5th, he made his postseason debut, starting against the Colorado Rockies in Game 2 of the NLDS; at 38 he was the oldest position player to do so since Lave Cross way back in the 1905 World Series, having missed out on a chance to get into any games when he was the Royals' back-up in their run to the World Series in 2014. He had a key hit in that game, a two-run single with two outs in the bottom of 8th that turned a shaky 2-0 lead into a 4-0 margin. He started the next game as well as the Brewers completed a three-game sweep, having called a shutout in both games. His sudden star turn made him an unexpected folk hero. In one of the most iconic images from that year's postseason, a group of his friends from college all showed up at one of the Brewers' home games each wearing a different major league uniform that Kratz had sported during his career; he was unaware of their plan, and his meeting with them before the game was a very emotional moment. He went 2 for 16 with a double in Milwaukee' loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

Kratz went to spring training with the Brewers in 2019, even though it was clear that, barring injury, he had no chance of making the team, the Brewers having signed Yasmani Grandal as a free agent during the off-season, with Pina still around to be his back-up. However the Brewers gave hi some playing time to show him to other teams who might have an interest, and on March 24th, they found a taker, sending him to the San Francisco Giants in return for minor league IF C.J. Hinojosa. Ironically, he was to spell former Brewers teammate Vogt as the back-up to Buster Posey, as a shoulder injury was keeping Vogt from making the team, and the other prospective backup, fellow career journeyman Rene Rivera, had just been released. He hit .125 in 15 games for the Giants before being designated for assignment on May 14th. On May 16th, he was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for future considerations. He was released by Tampa in early June after going 1 for 17 in 6 games but immediately found another team, signing on with the New York Yankees. He did not play for the Yankees that season, but in 2020 was on the field for 16 games as a third-string catcher and occasional first baseman (he also pitched twice, to give him 7 games and as many innings for his career as he showed off a rather impressive knuckleball). He bonded particularly well with young P Deivi Garcia, who was half his age but thrived under his mentorship. He hit .321 but did not appear in the postseason, although he was on the roster for the Wild Card Series. After the season, he announced that he was retiring, making good on a promise he had made to his young daughter to buy her a puppy when he finally hanged up his spikes.

Sources include the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bryan Hoch: "New puppy signals end of Kratz's MLB career", mlb.com, November 6, 2020. [1]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Life of a journeyman: Brewers catcher Erik Kratz finally has playoff shot", USA Today, September 5, 2018. [2]

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