BRADENTON, Fla. – There isn’t really anything linking Max Kranick and Gavin Wallace. Kranick was drafted out of high school in the 11th round of the 2016 draft, while Wallace was drafted out of college in the 15th round in 2017. They’re two completely different pitchers, with some vague similarities in terms of velocity and their pitch selection.
The similarity for this article’s purpose is that they both pitched on the same day this week, and both were working on a new slider. Kranick was adding a completely new pitch, while Wallace was working on refining his already existing, but inconsistent slider.
Kranick Gets a New Pitch
Max Kranick has shown some promise as a young pitcher out of high school, flashing some velocity in the low-90s, with the chance to add more. The velocity hasn’t been consistent though, and while he could still see an increase, the Pirates aren’t going to bank on a velocity increase dictating his future.
During the Fall Instructional League, then-pitching coordinator Justin Meccage approached Kranick about adding a slider to his mix — a mix that also includes a slower curveball. The hope was to add a better out pitch, but also to add an additional option.
“As a starter not with plus-plus velocity, you need four pitches,” Kranick said. “You can’t really get away with three in the game today. It was time to add one. He said once Spring Training comes around, have it ready to roll.”
The slider is harder than his curveball, sitting around mid-80s. So far, Kranick has been inconsistent with the pitch, but is hoping to have it ready by the end of camp.
“It’s really good in bullpens, but I’m kind of struggling with the hitter,” Kranick said. “I just need to find a point to put my eyes on, where to throw it. It’s a hard slider in the pen. Once I get into the game, it’s kind of a little bit slower. It’s kind of between a curve and a slider. A couple more reps, and I think it’s going to be ready to go.”
Kranick showed some good velocity the other day, sitting around 91-93 and touching 94. He has good control and downward movement on his fastball, so he doesn’t need a lot of velocity. But he also hasn’t consistently been at that level.
“I know last year at the end of the year I wasn’t,” Kranick said. “Maybe early on I was close to that. I think I’m going to be a little bit up this year. I worked really hard in the offseason, on my body, and coming into camp in really good shape, ready to roll.”
Kranick has a shot at making the West Virginia roster this year, although it’s a crowded group, and if his stuff isn’t consistent then he could end up in extended Spring Training for more work, then likely in the Morgantown rotation.
Wallace Adjusts His Slider
Gavin Wallace already had a slider, but the pitch was inconsistent, looking like a slider one pitch, and looking like a curveball the other time. He has been working with assistant pitching coordinator Tom Filer on a new grip, aimed at getting more consistently. Wallace said it’s not really a new pitch as much as trying to throw the pitch more consistently.
He has been using a four-seam grip, and the biggest thing is the focus on staying on top of the ball, rather than being on the side. He would previously try to manipulate the pitch by curving the pitch with his wrist, rather than trusting the grip. The main focus for Wallace is adding an out-pitch.
“Last season, and really all my career, I’ve never really had that out pitch that I needed to progress as I would like,” Wallace said. “We need to develop that out pitch that I can use, and whip it out of my back pocket when I need it.”
The new pitch is more like a slurve, rather than trying to be a true slider. Wallace also throws a sinker and a four-seam fastball, using the sinker more often. He also has a changeup which he is comfortable with, and he gets some help in that department from his older brother, Mike, who is also a pitcher in the system, and who has one of the best changeups in the system.
“He’s got a real good changeup,” Wallace said of his brother. “That’s something I’ve always tried to get to his level with. His changeup has been his pitch, and his breaking ball keeps getting better. We’re similar pitchers, except he definitely has a better feel for that changeup, more consistent, and that’s been his pitch his entire life.”
Wallace has thrown harder than his brother in the past, getting up to 94 MPH. His changeup is good enough that the Pirates don’t have him focusing on the pitch right now. If he can add a consistent slider, he could become an interesting pitching prospect. He’s being worked as a starter, and could have a shot at the West Virginia rotation this year out of camp.