First Pitch: Why I’m Focused on Max Kranick and Rodolfo Castro the Rest of 2021

The 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates are a losing team in the majors, and once it hits August, the reasons to follow a bottom-five team start to disappear.

I’m not so sure that’s the case with the current Pirates.

If you want team wins, this isn’t going to be the team to follow on a consistent basis, though they can put up some exciting ones like last night.

If you want to see hope and promise for the future, then this team might provide that in glimpses.

The current roster features several prospects trying to break into the majors for good. That includes newcomers Bryse Wilson and Hoy Park, both acquired at the MLB trade deadline.

The prospects in the majors that interest me the most this year are Max Kranick and Rodolfo Castro. That interest is not based on their long-term upside compared to guys like Wilson and Park.

The interest is how they got here.

Kranick pitched in High-A in 2019. He started the 2021 season in Double-A for three starts. He moved up to Triple-A for four starts, then made his MLB debut in a bit of a surprise move.

Kranick threw five no-hit innings in that debut, his best start so far. He was called back up two weeks later for another spot-start, sent down for one more start in Triple-A, and returned to the majors again to make three more starts, including last night’s outing.

Castro also played in High-A in 2019. He made some steps forward with his power in 2020 at the alternate training site, and moved up to Double-A this year. The Pirates surprisingly called him up in April, needing some emergency depth.

Castro didn’t stick at that point in time. He returned to the minors, began his season in Double-A, and went on to hit .306/.349/.549 in Altoona before getting called up again last month. Castro was sent back down for a week in mid-July, but returned after the Adam Frazier trade and has been starting regularly.

I would not have expected Kranick or Castro in the majors this year at the start of the season, barring amazing numbers they have no posted so far.

Neither player is really justifying a reason to keep them in the majors right now, based on their numbers. Kranick had the no-hit debut, but has given up 16 earned runs in 15 innings since. Castro has five home runs in the majors, spread across three games. He also has four hits in 32 at-bats over his other nine starts. He’s rocking a .214/.283/.595 line.

Yet, both players have shown reason to be in the majors. Castro because of his power. Kranick, while giving up runs, has an 18:8 K/BB ratio in 20 innings. His ERA in the majors is 7.20, but his FIP is 4.16, with the disparity largely being a .369 BABIP.

There can be an expectation for prospects to arrive in the majors with no development needed. It never seems to work out that way.

Look at Ke’Bryan Hayes right now. He’s hitting for a .245/.317/.378 line in 218 plate appearances. Those numbers far removed from the monster numbers he put up in half the time last year, and removed from the expectations for Hayes — both lofty and conservative.

Is Hayes a bust? Of course not.

Does Hayes need time to adjust to the majors? It would appear so.

Can we expect better numbers from Hayes going forward? I would predict that.

That’s not a bold prediction. He’s not looking terribly overmatched in any department, with a 21.6% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate to pair with his .133 ISO.

It’s also not a bold prediction in the sense that Hayes entered the year as the top prospect in the system. You know the organization is going to give him latitude to bounce back.

Do Kranick and Castro have that same latitude?

I can’t remember the Pirates handling a prospect like Kranick or Castro under Neal Huntington. The first two seasons under Ben Cherington have been impacted by COVID-19, but the usage of Kranick and Castro at this point seems to be detached from that. These are guys who were called up to fill a need, but also because they could be long-term solutions for that need.

How much latitude will Cherington give Castro and Kranick? Are they up here to learn, take their knocks, and try to improve for a year in the majors that matters for the Pirates? How will their chances be impacted by the additions the Pirates made to each of their positions at the deadline?

I’d expect Kranick to get competition from Bryse Wilson and Miguel Yajure when he returns. Castro seems to be getting the first shot at second base, but the Pirates just added several middle infielders to the upper levels, so it’s not like Castro has anything locked down.

I’m excited by what Kranick and Castro can do, both now and in the future. I think they can be starters at their respective positions in the future, and they can show that potential at times this year.

Most of all, I’m interested in how the Pirates handle them the rest of the year, and how much room for growth they are given in the majors during the 2021 season.

Daily Links

**Prospect Watch: Henry Davis Debuts With a Double and a Homer

**Top Ten Hitters and Pitchers for Week 13 of the Minor League Season

**Game Recap: Pirates Go Hitless Until the Seventh But Come Back to Win in Ten

**Pirates Make a Group of Minor League Moves, Including Adding a New Pitcher

**Braxton Ashcraft Has Tommy John Surgery


**Game Rewind: Pirates at Braves, August 2, 1912

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 3rd, Popular Day for 1987 Pirates

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