Success in baseball all begins with pitching, and the Toronto Blue Jays excel in this area of their minor league development. With a continued effort to draft and sign quality young arms that can develop into major league talents, the Blue Jays are hoping they found a late round steal in left-handed reliever Michael Kraft.
Selected in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB draft out of the University of Texas at San Antonio; Kraft jumped onto the scene quickly and took full advantage of the opportunity the Blue Jays presented to him this past summer.
“Being drafted was one of the proudest moments of my life,” stated Kraft. “I wasn’t sure if I would get drafted, so hearing my name called was special for my family and I. It was really a dream come true moment.”
Signing his professional contract right away, Kraft began his professional journey with the Blue Jays advanced-rookie ball club in Bluefield, West Virginia. The excitement he felt after being drafted transitioned nicely, as the lefty threw 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the Appalachian League.
Kraft registered nine strikeouts and opposing hitters only managed a .129 batting average against him, but the stat that was really impressive was his 0.62 WHIP. The impressive start earned Kraft a quick promotion to the Vancouver Canadians, the Blue Jays short season-A club.
While the talent may have jumped, the crafty lefty only got better. In fact, opposing hitters only managed a stingy .103 batting average against Kraft in his 21 Northwest League innings. Factor that in with his 0.86 ERA, 25 strikeouts, and 0.95 WHIP. All of which made it clear, the Blue Jays made a great selection.
Taking full advantage of every aspect of his two professional stops, Kraft enjoyed working with Bluefield Blue Jays manager Dennis Holmberg. Although the time was short, he feels he learned a lot from his first professional manager.
“Bluefield was a very small town without much in the way of entertainment or food, which didn’t make my stomach happy,” stated Kraft. “Bluefield was great for focusing on baseball though. I looked forward to going to the field every day and spending most of my time there. Dennis [Holmberg] made the clubhouse a fun place with all of his meetings and rituals. I enjoyed playing for him.”
The Texas native really enjoyed his second stop in Vancouver. Growing up in a big city like San Antonio; the larger environment Vancouver had to offer was great, as it provided more options for entertainment and places to explore.
“Vancouver was incredible. I loved the city. The scenery and all it had to offer,” said Kraft. “There was great food all over and a great atmosphere at the ballpark every night. People were friendly and were really passionate about their Vancouver Canadians. I really liked that my host family lived near a bay, a mountain, and some hiking trails. Whenever I had off time it was great exploring the Canadian outdoors.”
Getting his first taste of postseason action in Vancouver; Kraft registered 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Picking up three strikeouts in Game 2 of the Northwest League Championship Series against Hillsboro was a memorable moment for Kraft.
“Pitching in the Northwest League playoffs was a great experience. The high pleasure situations and expectations on the Canadians to win made the games really exciting,” said Kraft. “The second game of the championship series had to be one of the most intense games I’ve ever been a part of.”
For those who haven’t seen Kraft pitch yet in person. He is a pitcher that relies on location to find success. The lefty uses three pitches: a 4-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. His fastball usually sits between 87 to 91 miles per hour, but it can touch 92 at times during the season.
Preparing for his first spring training this winter; Kraft is making sure to take good care of his shoulder, as he has big plans for continuing his 2014 success with one of the Blue Jays full season affiliates in 2015.
“This off-season I have mainly tried to get stronger and add muscle,” explained Kraft. “I’ve also been trying to keep my shoulder healthy going along with the Blue Jays shoulder maintenance program.”
“I’ve set my goals high for spring. I would like to be with a full season club pitching around 100 innings this season,” he added. “Staying healthy will be key and so will staying focused, confident, and aggressive.”
Be sure to follow Michael Kraft this season, as he takes the next step in his minor league development with either the Blue Jays Midwest League or Florida State League affiliate.