Sacramento State University Press
March 7th. Spring Training. Top of the first.
Long Beach Surfer lead-off man, Brandon Howeth-Arneson, Jr. scorched a 1-2 split-finger off California Crusader starter, Nick Pearce. The ball, showing exit velocity readings of a red-hot 110.6, was casually backhanded after a skip off the infield dirt by shortstop, Thomas Kramer. Kramer set his feet and fired a strike to first base.
One out. Routine.
The California Crusaders came into Spring Training feeling confident with the return of their entire infield from a year ago -- Zimmer-Winner, Jorge Lugo (3.1 WAR), at short; defensive marvel, Daryl Pris (2.7 WAR), at second; lead-off extraordinaire, Quant Kouros (4.5 WAR), at third; and, burgeoning superstar, César Feliciana (2.1 WAR), manning first. With this group, there wasn't much room for an up-and-coming infield prospect to push GM Shoeless' hand to make a change. But, that outlook is changing after the spring Thomas Kramer is putting together.
"Some fans come to the park to see home runs. Others come to see pitchers mowing down hitters with strikeouts," said South Pacific Field cotton candy vendor, Judas Methias. "But, soon enough, they'll all be coming to the park to watch Tommy (Kramer) play shortstop."
Originally drafted in the second round of the 2039 Amateur Draft, Kramer worked his way into a September call-up last year. The call-up was due in large part to his defensive ratings: 11 IF Range/10 IF Error/11 Arm/9 Turn DP.
"We've loved what we've seen out of Kramer all the way up," said GM Shoeless via telephone. "He's a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Defensively, he's only improving. I think we haven't even seen his true potential out there yet."
If Crusader fans get a chance to see more of that potential during the regular season, it will depend a lot on the play of an unlikely pair, corner-outfielders, Luis Gonzalez and Mitch Dalrymple. If both players continue to stumble through Spring Training -- Gonzalez, .174/.333/.261; Dalrymple, .097/.176/.097 -- fans may see David Simpson moved out of his projected DH spot and into the outfield, making room for Feliciano to hit in the DH spot, Kouros shifting over to firstbase, Lugo to third, and Kramer to short.
"We can't rule out any possibility right now concerning our opening day lineups," said Shoeless. "The thought of moving a Zimmer winner at shortstop to third base to make room for an even bigger defensive talent will certainly make our pitching staff happy. Good luck trying to skip a grounder through that infield."
For his sake, Kramer has been humble about that possibility.
"I'll do whatever helps the team," said Kramer. "I just want to help bring a Landis to California. That's my only goal."