Updated: May 2, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days, starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of a quirky and goofy guy, and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Evan Kruczynski - Left-Handed Pitcher
Drafted in the 9th round of the 2017 draft
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
This is the story of a prospect that I severely undervalued when he was selected in the 9th round of the 2017 draft. Even after his impressive debut with Peoria after the draft, I still didn't pay him much attention or give him the credit that he deserved.
I'm blaming this on a) Seth Maness and b) me, because I'm really really bad at this.
See, initially, I say that I blamed Seth Maness because they both went to East Carolina and they were very similar pitchers at the University, statistically. Kruczynski was better by most measurements, but not by much. I bring this up because I wanted to take a second to say how embarrassed I am that I did this, and it deserves criticism. SO, please, criticize me for doing this. I've learned from it, but that mentality deserves criticism (unless it's the University of Virginia's pitchers). By all accounts, if you can get a Seth Maness-type contributor in the 9th round of the draft then you've done well for yourself.
My lack of appreciation for Mr. Kruczynski lasted all of three starts in 2018, when I was fortunate enough to watch him pitch via MiLB.TV vs Bradenton. During this start, he mixed his sinker, curve, and change so damn well that that I couldn't believe that the Marauders managed three hits. The night was filled with weak contact and off-balance swings, and Kruczynski finished with a line of 6 innings pitched, three hits, one walk, one earned run, and nine strike outs. He was dominant, and that performance was eye-opening.
It wasn't just his repertoire that caught my eye that night; it was his poise and command on the mound that really stood out.
Kruczynski was both aggressive and in control. He fielded his position well (which is just a nice little extra "thing"). He was a little fiery, too, but in the way that you'd want your starting pitcher to be. It was during this start that I realized that I had made a terrible mistake by not investing more time and energy into scouting Kruczynski.
So, as a result, I dug in. I spent the better part of a weekend watching all of the video that I could find on him from his time in college. Then, I went back and watched as much as I could find from his time in Peoria in 2017. Then, I watched that start against Bradenton again. You could see small little mechanical tweaks that had been made over the years without compromising his throwing motion. You could also see some pretty great command-growth in just one season, as well. It was at this point that I was fully invested in Mr. Kruczynski.
One of the things that I noticed early on about Kruczynski was that he worked quickly. Even his wind-up had a pace to it that I loved. I've mentioned this before, but during the two starts that I watched against Bradenton he really seemed to move his lower body with the same pace and motion of Mark Mulder, but with a much quicker upper body. I loved it, but the pace from both halves of his body seemed off, and I worried about that a little.
However, everything really seemed to come together for him by the time he was pitching for Springfield at the end of the season. His upper body and lower body were more in sync. His pace was controlled and quick, but not frantic. Talking solely about his repertoire, he was commanding all three of his main offerings (fastball, change, and curve) in all counts against both handed hitters, while using both sides of the plate. He doesn't go up in the zone too effectively, but he is good down in the zone.
The best news here is, the stats back up the observations. Over his six starts spanning 39.2 innings at Springfield to end the season, Kruczynski put up an ERA of 2.50, a FIP of 2.95, a batting average against of .199, and a WHIP of 0.93. He did this while throwing 65% strikes, striking out 33, inducing a swing strike rate of 14%, and only allowing one home run. You couldn't ask for a stronger finish to the season at an advanced level.
I can't say for sure, but it seemed like Kruczynski had started to work a slider into his repertoire by the time he was at Springfield, and that really seemed to help him a great deal. Keep an eye on this little sequence below. It'll give you a great idea of just how good his stuff is capable of working with each other, and how great of a job he does to repeat his mechanics.
Kruczyski finished the year with an Arizona Fall League assignment. He did a good job of holding his own during the "prospect finishing school," but he left a little to be desired. One of the things that became more obvious about Evan, that had only been hinted at during the season, was that he sometimes gets off to a rocky start. I don't know how to remedy this exactly, but I do know that he's going to have to work through some of these first inning jitters to truly max out his potential.
Also, to go from allowing a batting average against of .199 in 36.2 Double-A innings, to allowing a batting average against of .299 in 22.2 innings is a bit alarming. Batting average against isn't everything, and of course it's a bit of a luck stat, but it still wasn't promising.
I can tell you that a lot of the damage to him in Arizona happened during that first inning of each start. We need to keep a close eye on that moving forward. He still only allowed one home run in those 22.2 innings, and we love that. He can thank his ability to keep the ball low and on the corners for that.
The other thing that became a little more clear during his time in the AFL is that he is not as effective against top-tier talent. That last sentence is a bit of an obvious statement because, "DUH", but it became clear that Kruczynski has to work a little harder against hitters with an advanced hitting approach. I think the best way to put it is this way: statistically, Kruczynski seems like a middle of the rotation pitcher, potentially. But when you watch him pitch against advanced talent it becomes obvious that he's more of a back of the rotation/swingman option. This isn't to disparage him. On the contrary, this goes to show just how truly valuable of a prospect he is.
You'll notice that Kruczynski isn't afraid to go after right-handed hitters in the .gif's above. I love how well he attacks them. He never hesitates to go inside on them, and he gets away with it because of the tailing movement on most of his repertoire. And, really, it's his work against righties that has me somewhat bullish on him as compared to many others.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Kruczynski has the chance to make a major league impact, not just a debut, within the next two season. He possesses an advanced feel for his repertoire, with command of both himself and those pitches. While, ultimately, he profiles best as a swingman/back end of the rotation arm, there's a chance that he could max out as a middle of the rotation starter over a season or two. Kruczynski missed a month of the season between the beginning of June and the beginning of July, and I'm anxious to see what his production will look like over a full season's worth of innings. I do believe that Kruczynski's potential is being undersold a great deal on the national stage, and probably even here in this article.
MAY 1st UPDATE
WOOF. It's been a rough start to the season for Kruczynski. However, keep a closer eye on his xfip than his ERA here. Because of some nonsensical positioning at Springfield, all of the AA pitchers have had their ERA victimized. I've only watched on of Kruczynski's starts so far this season, and he really seemed to be battling himself in that start. What I mean is, he looked on edge and uncomfortable from the get-go. I'd bet that he'll turn it around if he can just relax and get a little help from the defense behind him.
Thank you to FanGraphs for providing the stats!
Thanks For Reading!!