Like many other young minor leaguers, former Mississippi State catcher Jack Kruger split his 2017 season between two levels in the Los Angeles Angels farm system, but unlike most, he had the rare thrill of a major league spring training invitation after just his first year of pro ball.
Kruger was a 20th-round draft selection of the Angels in 2016 after just one season on the Mississippi State campus. Kruger helped that Diamond Dawg team to 44 wins overall, a Southeastern Conference regular season championship, and a Super Regional appearance at Dudy Noble Field. He hit .344 with eight home runs and 40 runs batted in. As a middle of the order hitter on a star-studded line-up, he finished the season third on the club in hitting, and second in slugging, on-base percentage, doubles, and runs scored. He was expected to be a cornerstone on the ’17 Bulldog squad.
But a $395,000 signing bonus, a figure well above his drafted slot value, and the lure of playing in his hometown L.A. Angels system, was ultimately too much for Kruger to turn down. He signed with the Angels on July 18, 2016, the final day for drafted players to reach agreement with their professional organizations.
Kruger split his ’16 professional season between the Arizona League Angels and the Orem Owlz, both Rookie League teams. He hit a combined .310 during that first pro season, but the real excitement happened just a few months later when the catcher/designated hitter was invited to spring training with the major league team. Kruger made the most of his limited opportunities with the big club, playing in five spring games, and going four-for-seven (.571), with a double and an RBI.
Kruger began this past season at Class A Burlington (Iowa). In 69 games at the full-season A franchise, Kruger hit .232 with four homers and 23 RBI. It was his defense, however, that earned him a promotion to Advanced A Inland Empire. Kruger fielded at a .990 clip at Burlington, throwing out 37 percent of would-be base stealers. In 35 games at IE, which is located in San Bernardino, Cal., Kruger improved his offensive numbers to .255 with a homer and 16 RBI in just 35 games.
Kruger explained his hitting style to Rahul Setty of Halos Heaven: “Get a good pitch in the zone, stay aggressive in fastball counts, and attack it. Stay simple, don’t make it too complex.”
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