No baseball player ever forgets his major league debut, and that goes for Max Kranick.
But for the young Pirates right-hander, his arrival to the Show on June 27 came on a pretty big stage—Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The first Cardinals batter he faced, Dylan Carlson, was a fellow rookie much like him, a low-round draftee making a name for himself.
It helped that Kranick (Twitter: @MaxKranick) had already made history of sorts, getting his first major league at-bat before he ever threw a pitch for the Bucs, a feat only Paul Maholm had pulled off in 2005. His first pitch to Carlson was a called strike. Carlson hit the second pitch to left-center field for an easy out.
After that, Kranick told me, “the nerves left me.”
That’s an understatement, as Kranick went on to pitch five perfect innings before a rain delay ended his day and raised the hopes of Pirates fans, who glimpsed the future that Ben Cherington has been promising.
Kranick grew up near Scranton, on the other side of Pennsylvania from Pittsburgh. As can happen in that part of the world, he grew up a Mets fan. He started his baseball life as an infielder, developing into a pitcher at Valley View High School in his hometown of Archbald and admiring Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The University of Virginia came calling for him in his senior year, but the Pirates called too in the eleventh round of the 2016 draft. Kranick admits that it was a tough decision to choose between the Bucs and UVA, but being able to pay for school and acknowledging that anyone who wants to be a major leaguer “can’t take a chance with injuries” led him to sign with the Pirates and head to Bradenton for rookie league.
Joel Hanrahan retired from MLB the same year that Kranick was drafted, and they came together in 2018 with the Class A West Virginia Power, where Hanrahan was the pitching coach. Kranick credits Hanrahan with helping him develop his slider, his favored second pitch these days. He said that Hanrahan never wore him down in development, often having him throw sliders for just five minutes before telling him, “we’re good.” Hanrahan is now the pitching coach at Indianapolis, and Kranick regularly consults him along with Bucs pitching coach Oscar Marin and bullpen coach Justin Meccage in his offseason development. His goal this year is to concentrate on his changeup, which was his other-than-fastball pitch before creating his slider.
The 2020 cancellation of minor league baseball could have been a major stumbling block in Kranick’s progress, but he did what a lot of pitchers did—he took to his backyard at home. His dad, John, helped Kranick and his brother, also John, build the mound, his brother bought a Rapsodo machine, and all together they “dove into the numbers.” This resulted in his addition to the Pirates’ 40-man roster and his assignment to Altoona to begin the 2021 season. He was promoted to Indy at the end of May, and we all know the story from there.
Kranick has nothing but praise for those around him on the Pirates, including newly-minted Gold Glove winner Jacob Stallings, with whom he’s been “in complete sync.” He notes that Cherington talks to everyone and has a clear-cut plan for every player.
Max Kranick will never forget June 27, 2021. However, he’ll also remember September 26. That day, he got his second major league win against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, in front of his Phillies fan family members. He went five innings again, with four hits, three walks, and five strikeouts.
His first strikeout of the afternoon?
He’s proud of that one.
Special thanks to Paul Kuo of the Ballengee Group for arranging this interview.