Monday, April 25, 2011

Marc Kroon: Apparently the Nicest Guy in the Giants System

If you're a Giant or Grizzlies or Minor League baseball fan in general and are not following Marc Kroon yet on Twitter, REALLY should start doing so for two reasons:

1.) He's a nice guy and probably responds directly to his tweeps more often than your usual "athlete" on twitter.
2.) He is hooking fans up with free tickets to Fresno Grizzlies games, not just at Chukchansi Park, but wherever the Grizzlies play.

Talk about a nice guy. You're not seeing really any other player with a Twitter profile be this generous (and not only in the Giants minor league system, but in all of minor league baseball in general).

But who is Marc Kroon, anyways?

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice story on him in January when he was signed to a Minor League contract. Though he didn't make the team out of Spring Training, Kroon currently is on the Grizzlies roster and holding his own. In 6.2 IP, he has 9 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.95 and an ERA of 2.70. While you would like him to control his walk numbers a little bit (he has five walks so far this year), Kroon can strike guys out, and that is a good quality to have as a reliever.

Kroon isn't exactly a young player (he's actually 38 years old) and he has spent most of his career in the minors and in Japan (though he was a top prospect coming out of High School, as he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft by the New York Mets). In Japan though, not only did he play for the Yomiuri Giants (Love his picture with Mariah BTW!), but he was one of the more dominant closers in the Far East, known for his blazing fastball (clocked at 101 MPH three years ago), and ability to make hitters whiff. In his four seasons in Japan from 2007-2010 (he played with Yokohama in 2007 and Yomiuri from 2008-2010...remember, in the Nippon Baseball League, all the teams are known by their sponsors, not their city), he posted K/9 rates of 13.8, 13.4, 10.3 and 13. His high K/9 rate, and good K/BB ratios (he never had a K/BB ratio under 2.52 in the NPB), made him ideal for the ninth inning as a closer. He saved 31 games with the Bay Stars in 2007 and 93 games total in his three seasons with the Giants.

Despite being a fan favorite in Japan, (he's got his own Web site that mostly caters to Japanese fans), he came back to the states looking for a second chance in the Majors (the last time he played in the Big Leagues was in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies). Considering the Giants organization hasn't hesitated to give relievers second chances in the past (and it has paid off), Kroon will have an opportunity to succeed, despite starting the year in Fresno. Additionally, his unique pitching style and motion could give some hitters fits in the Pacific Coast League and perhaps Major League level. (Many Japanese pitchers' styles do, especially initially, and despite being from the States, Kroon has seemingly adopted a more Japanese-style pitching motion, with a slight pause in the windup.)

Of course, Kroon isn't a slam dunk by any stretch just yet. Throughout his professional career, walks have been an issue (he has a career 5.1 BB/9 rate and 6.0 BB/9 rate in Triple-A). While he seemed to pan out the issues his first few years in Japan (his BB/9 was 3.2, 4.0 and 3.4 his first three seasons), his BB/9 numbers increased to 5.2 his last season with Yomiuri (which lowered his K/BB ratio under 3 for the first time in his Japanese career). The control issues haven't gotten any better either since coming to the states, as his five walks in 6.2 IP have produced a BB/9 rate of 6.8. While that is just a small sample, and Kroon has plenty of time to lower that rate, it certainly doesn't prove that his walk issues from his past are a thing of the past (at least initially).

The story with Kroon's career is a fascinating one, and in many ways, a lot of baseball fans are hoping for Kroon to succeed. Even just following him on Twitter, Kroon seems to be an upbeat, cordial and positive person who is a breath of fresh air. And not only is he a good person, but he seems to be a decent pitcher with an above average fastball and above average ability to strike batters out. Will he get to showcase those traits as a Giant? It's too early to call and a lot of chips will have to fall in the right place (ineffectiveness to relievers in the Giants bullpen, somebody being DFA'd to make room for Kroon on the 40-man roster, etc.), but you certainly hope so.

Good guys like him with skill sets like his deserve some kind of shot. (Or at least a second shot.)

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